Use Communications to Boost Consumer Confidence in Hard Times
To many economists’ surprise, consumer confidence in the United States is on the rise – albeit slowly. The Thompson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary August index of consumer sentiment rose to 73.6, which is the highest it’s been in three months.
Of course, this figure is still dwarfed by scores that hovered around 110 in the years preceding 2008’s economic collapse. While consumers of everything from homes to cars to food are feeling a bit better about their collective financial outlook; they are nowhere near as confident as they were before the bottom fell out of the global economy.
For corporate communicators, this current era of economic skepticism has raised interesting questions about what – in anything – they can do outside of traditional advertising to help consumers feel better about opening up their wallets and checkbooks. In an era of decreased revenues, some think that communications and public relations represent “non-essential” business practices that ought to be reined in.
The reality is quite the opposite. While advertising tends to reinforce purchasing decisions, strong public relations create them – and that’s precisely what’s needed at a time when more consumers are focused on what they need; as opposed to what they want.
To help maintain momentum among U.S. consumers, here are five tips for designing communications and public relations plans that are well-suited for times of rampant economic cynicism:
1. Avoid going into the bunker when it comes to communications. Instead, invest and apply your efforts strategically during a downturn to maximize the return on your investment. You can curtail some communications activities and postpone others that may be on the drawing board, but if you go dark in digital, social or traditional PR in a recession, you risk lowering confidence in your brand.
2. Shift your communications efforts away from corporate responsibility and reputation issues and toward promoting your products and services in ways that extend beyond traditional advertising. This will conserve financial resources and keep you visible where you most need to be.
3. Talk about value; not price. Right now, nobody wants to be reminded of how much they have to shell out for a particular product or service. They would much rather be reminded of what they’re getting in return for their money.
4. Follow the lead of the best food and consumer product companies by offering more of a product or service for the same price. Reducing prices only conditions buyers to expect bargains and makes it harder to raise prices when the economy picks back up.
5. You may note that times are challenging, but you must refrain from sending any messages that paint the current economic condition as desperate. When consumers are feeling overly-anxious, they close their wallets and their minds.
Gene Grabowski is Executive Vice President at LEVICK, the nation’s top crisis communications firm. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily. Connect with him @crisisguru.