Monday, 1 June 2009

Consumer Spending Habits Have Changed Permanently

Nat Ives in Ad Age points out that it's most likely that this 'economic readjustment' has made a permanent change in the buying habits of the masses.  While I suspect people will return to injecting a similar amount of money into the economy in the next couple of years, I think there'll be a profound change in where they spend their money, illustrated by this chart from Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker in a presentation to the Web 2.0 Conference on Nov. 5 of '08:
The key issue here is the gap between the sudden decline in the US personal savings rate in orange that began in '85 with a rise in investment in the Dow Jones in green (added by me) and the home equity increase in red and  that began in '95 due to incentives introduced by 'Housing & Urban Development' (HUD).  This shift of savings into 'investment opportunities' created the enormous shared risk necessary for the current crash.  The steep increase in the percentage of home ownership above it's formerly stable level proved unsustainable (people who could not afford the mortgages were behind the rise).  This means 'investment' in real estate will have to drop, while the losses in average peoples' investment funds has created a wound that will remain painful for many years.

The result?  A market-wide shift from 'investment products' to 'savings products', along with a healthy culture shift from rampant consumerism to more level-headed spending patterns.  

P&G and the globe's other major marketers are right to be concerned, this change in culture will mean permanent shifts in the sales of their high-end products.  It's not that demand for these products will vanish, just that it is likely to be lower than it was.  PLUS there will be, as Nat points out, a much more intense scrutiny by consumers into the true value of every product and service out there, which will have an indelible effect upon the demise of 'push marketing' and the continued rise of 'pull'.  

As I've often pointed out, what THAT means is the shift of marketing spending from traditional 'push marketing' media, formerly called ATL, to interactive, face-to-face and socially credible efforts of the kind predicted by Doc Searls and David Weinberger in chapter four of the "Cluetrain Manifesto" back in 2001:  people interacting across a table laden with goods in a marketplace, just as we have for millennia.  What THAT means is a surge in the fortunes of the folks sufficiently visionary to have invested in creating experiential marketing agencies!

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