Tracey Follows, Head of Planning, VCCP
Thinking a lot about the post-recessionary consumer, I went back to John Gerzema's talk on the 'post-crisis consumer'.
It's fascinating really because he gives numerous examples of how consumer mindsets and behaviour has changed as a result of the recession; and also how brands and services are responding to this to deliver to a new set of needs.
His big point really is that consumers are now looking to buy into Value + Values - looking for brands that will deliver both great value and will do the right thing ( a bit of a Triple Bottom Line theme) but this seems a bit high falutin' to me when people can't afford to buy an extra tin of beans, or are having to feed their family for a fiver!
But i think what is interesting is that he is highlighting the themes of responsibility, accountability and sustainability. And he seems to pick up on an important shift taking place in which consumers are starting to, and having to, take more responsibility for their spending. They are de-risking; being extra resourceful in how they spend and on what they spend, often collaborating with others (as we know from collaborative consumption); and (like in the Depression) wanting to get better educated and skilled so that they can make more informed choices - and therefore, the right decision.
So, building on this thought, we could say that we are entering the age of 'The Accountable Consumer'.
The value exchange is indeed changing, away from consumers just expecting to be rewarded with great value; towards an idea in which the consumer takes some responsibility for the scale and type and even timing of rewards that are due them. The consumer might be empowered - but rather than just bullying brands, he can work with brands, to gain an overall better sense of reward. Think of it as 'buying the right thing + doing the right thing + enjoying the responsible thing'. There must be a sense of satisfaction knowing that you have been more mindful in your spending (ie that is an emotional reward that sits alongside the material reward of whatever it is you have required).
No longer are people being sold to. They are an active part of the purchasing process.
It made me think that maybe we are seeing a journey over time from the Age of Excess (pre-recession) through to the Age of Austerity (which is now in 2010/11) and will in turn soon become The Age of Accountability.
Of course, it's not just the consumer who is having to be more accountable; brands are too. Gerzema talks about brands now paying dividends to their customers (we might say 'rewards') and this seems a lovely mirroring of the consumer and brand sharing the same values - and hence both being equally accountable for purchasing - like a 'we're in this together' kind of mentality.
So, we could go one step further and say that the Accountable Consumer will now choose the Accountable Brand. And the Accountable Brand now seeks an Accountable Consumer (one they can build a sustainable relationship with).
And that could be the new value-exchange: one based on shared accountability. ie a shared accountability for spending, saving, - a sharing of responsibility. Consumers now will only have relationships with the brands, services, products, or other people who share the same values. And a brand only has a relationship with fans rather than random promiscuous purchasers - we are all taking more responsibility for what we attract and what we choose.
So let's not pretend consumers are having it all their own way (i don't think any consumer actually feels that!).... It's far more about an accountable consumer than an empowered consumer. A combination of rights + duties, not just rights per se - because that's what got us into this mess, in the first place.