The UK might have officially limped out of recession at the end of January when the figure for economic growth reached 0.1%, but many consumers remain in a recessionary mindset. And with politicians talking of tough times ahead, consumer concerns remain similar to last year.
Having polled more than 2,000 consumers about their attitudes to spending and the economy since the official end of recession, agency TNS has identified six strategies commonly adopted by consumers in response to this environment. These include taking a “collaborate and accept” approach. Consumers in this category are concerned but believe they can get through the tough times. Meanwhile, the “escape and indulge” category are optimistic and refuse to be dragged down by adverse circumstances.
The study also matches each consumer attitude with a corresponding “brand archetype” and suggests a suitable business strategy that might be adopted. It says, for example, that brands addressing the “collaborate and accept” attitude should act as a friend to consumers to reassure them they will be helped through hard times.
Similarly, brands seeking to appeal to consumers who fall into the “escape and indulge” category should avoid all mention of the economic climate and instead provide consumers with a sense of escape and gratification, the research suggests.
Guy Kemplay, brand strategy director at TNS, explains: “There are brands that can talk about the recession and there are brands that shouldn’t.”
One brand that can talk about the economic circumstances is Sainsbury’s, which has been identified by TNS as a “helper” brand. Its Switch and Save strategy, which includes recipes that can be made for under £5, makes consumers feel that the supermarket is helping out.
In contrast, brands like Porsche and Apple should not refer to the economic climate, says Kemplay. “These brands are individualistic and assertive. Talking about helping people is not appropriate as the emotional benefit from choosing those brands is about feeling assertive.”
Instead of continuing to slash prices, the study suggests marketers need to think of creative ways to encourage people to invest in their brand. Hyundai’s assurance programme, launched in the US, promotes a buyback deal if people lose their jobs. The scheme is a way of being seen as a “guardian” brand without losing lots of money on promotions. So far, figures show that just 75 people have taken the car brand up on its guarantee, but the positive global PR generated by the scheme has been worth far more than the cost of running the promotion.
The strategies being employed by brands may not be short-term solutions to the economic climate. About a third of respondents to the TNS research believe it will take between five and ten years to fully recover from the downturn.
Consumers are still worried about their own jobs and financial security, and are even more worried than last year about the global economic recession, according to the research. Thirty per cent worry a lot about their financial security and 22% are really worried about the economic recession in this country.
The younger age group (16- to 24-year-olds) appears slightly more optimistic, with 17% worrying a lot about the recession. This age group is more likely to want to buy treats for themselves as a way of dealing with the economy, says Kemplay. “We looked at coping strategies for the recession from an emotive perspective and the younger age group is more likely to fall into the escape and indulge category.”
In general, concerns about the cost of living, the recession and job security are fairly evenly spread across all age groups and demographics. Kemplay says: “Ironically, now we’re out of the recession it’s hitting home a bit harder.”
More than a third (36%) of survey respondents say they will continue to trade down to cheaper brands as part of a “strategise and plan” consumer tactic. Very few people say they will go back to what they were spending before the recession hit, says Kemplay. “There’s an element of shopping around. People like that approach and they get a positive experience out of it.”
Choosing own-label products or using coupons are no longer seen in a negative light, according to Kemplay. “If you shop at Aldi, it doesn’t have the same connotations or even stigma that it used to. Making a smart choice is now viewed as a positive thing rather than seen as cutting back.”
Many people believe they have now changed their spending habits for good. Forty-six per cent say the recession has taught them to be more careful, and that they want to stick to this principle.
This attitude has become more popular since the first wave of TNS research into this area in 2009. Last year, only 35% agreed that they had learned to be more careful with their finances.
Different tactics for consumers to keep an eye on their finances include 20% saying they create a practical budget and find easy ways to stick to it, while 15% say they do research and seek out more information before spending money. The internet has become a more widely used resource for making purchasing decisions. Consumers are using price comparison and review websites to check out the best deals on the market.
The reasons that people buy into brands from an emotion perspective won’t change because of the economy but brands need to define themselves more clearly than ever, says Kemplay.
“Some brands have earned their place in the market,” he says. “If you make your brand strong enough to make that emotive connection, people will recognise that and pay for it.”
WE ASK EXPERTS ON THE FRONTLINE WHETHER OUR ’TRENDS’ RESEARCH MATCHES THEIR EXPERIENCE ON THE GROUND
Richard Dodd, head of media and campaigns at The British Retail Consortium
While customers are still nervous about their own situation and the wider economy, which is certainly impacting on retail sales, people are a bit less concerned and more confident than this time last year. So it’s quite surprising that this research shows people are more concerned than they were last year.
There are a lot of big problems out there but the economy is growing again, if slowly. The retail spending figures show that consumers are a bit less worried than they were a year ago.
There was lots of talk [last year] about people changing their shopping habits, going for value lines and moving over to discount retailers. Although consumers remain very focused on value, this will reduce when we ultimately get to more prosperous times. There’s no real reason to think that people’s shopping habits have permanently changed; it’s too early to make a judgement on that.
Jennelle Tilling, vice-president of marketing at KFC
I pretty much agree with the TNS findings. We have always been a strong value player. We’ve had our Bargain Bucket now for more than ten years, and have added layers of what we call “appropriate value”. We have a Streetwise range for 99p to appeal to students and our box meals
for under £5, so it’s about appropriate offers to appeal to different target audiences.
It’s also about innovation and developing new products, so we’ll be looking to add new products to our Streetwise range and expand our breakfast trial to more stores with a larger range. We find that mums want appropriate value and the younger generation want innovation.
The power of advertising helps us to convince customers to try new products. Our new TV and poster ads for Krushem is something a bit different to our normal ads. The only thing we won’t change is the Bargain Bucket. It’s about helping mums, right down to providing a drink, plates and cutlery so that she won’t have to do the washing up.
Jim Slater, marketing director of Costa
Customers have certainly become more discerning when they visit coffee shops. We think Costa has strongly outperformed the category during the recession, but there is no room for complacency. We need to continue putting our customers first, and focusing on the big activities, which mean most to our customers – such as the launch of the flat white drink and the new Costa Coffee Club loyalty card.