As Q4 and the holiday season rapidly approach, marketers and advertisers should be well on the lookout for historically high levels of consumer skepticism. What is "consumer skepticism" as it relates to marketing? It's simply the believability of marketing promises by shoppers.
This is always something to manage, of course, but the last two months have put people through the ringer to such an extent that honest companies are going to need to work extra hard to prove their genuineness.
Just think about all the ways people have felt duped over the last 60 days:
- The Beijing Olympic fireworks show turned out to be partially fake. And the beautiful children singing the national anthem during the show were cast to lip sync the part.
- Long-time football hero Brett Favre's well publicized return from retirement brought forth a seemingly selfish, uncharacteristic side of him unseen by fans for 16 years.
- Venerable institutions such as Merrill Lynch, Feddie Mac, WaMu and Lehman have fell, or are falling.
- America's relationship with Russia is now suddenly back on unfriendly terms--echoing negative feelings from the mid 80s.
- And the economy, which many of our political leaders have said is "performing fine" throughout the summer, now needs a $700B bailout "immediately."
All of these examples drastically reset long-held, stable assumptions... And they're all on top of many other things causing concern such as gas prices, unemployment, etc.
People are rightfully skeptical. They're not sure if they can trust even their most long-standing of notions. And they will be looking for answers and guidance now more than ever. It's actually reminiscent of three years ago...
Quick fact: According to the Little Red Book of Wisdom (a great read), back in 2005, the most commonly looked up word on Merriam-Webster's website was: “Integrity.” Why? That was the year when top executives at Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia and Tyco were all sentenced for their dishonest business practices.
But while “integrity” searches will probably go up again in 2008, I don’t think people are feeling the exact same thing today: The difference between the organizations that called integrity to question in 2005 and those that surprised us this year is that the former group we didn’t really pay much attention to before their scandals, whereas the latter we've had relationships with for years. It's a marked difference.
I think the word consumers will wanted further defined now more than ever is "trust." And conveying trust is not only the right thing to do, but it will be good business this holiday season.
Price will obviously be a top priority in Q4... But additionally, marketers who wish to rise above the fold should look to do five things in order to convey trust:
1. Now’s the time to ditch "marketing lingo." Examples: If your brand isn’t luxurious, don’t refer to it as luxury. If you can’t guarantee you have the friendlies sales staff around, don’t say "we have the friendliest sales staff around.” Choose words of clear honesty. There’s a car dealer in my city called Fairly Reliable Bob's. Look for places that use language such as “Fairly Reliable Bob's” to do well.
2. Avoid high-concept advertising and complex marketing programs. Consumers have more than the usual load on their minds. Keep advertising messages simple. (Look for marketers like Apple to continue doing well.)
3. Embrace humor. Times are bad, but times are not tragic. Brands that can make us laugh will be welcomed and rewarded. (Assuming they adhere to #2.)
4. Reach out to your fans. If you haven’t rewarded your loyal buyers in awhile, now’s the time. They’re needing love, and they're needing a discount. I recently received a packet of free drink coupons from Southwest Airlines for no reason at all.
5. Don’t be so calculated with how you talk to consumers. There’s no reason consumer relationships can’t be more fun and more, well, human. We're all in this together, so let honest conversation flow in Web 2.0. Alllow customer service--either online, on the phone or in person--to be genuinely empathetic to customer needs. Empower call centers to go off script as appropriate to have fun with people. (See Zappos--called them lately? I bet they'll have a nice holiday season).
Good luck out there.