The Current Economic Shopper: Part 4, Combining Marketing Strategies

(originally posted May 2012)

This marks the final installment in our series on the Current Economic Shopper. We’ve already talked about cause marketing, community marketing, and promotional marketing and how each tactic is an effective method to engage with customers.

You may have been reading with interest and nodding along with agreement. Or, you might have had the feeling that these ideas are still new and you’re not sure how to proceed. The economy is difficult, and being hesitant to change the way you engage with your current customer base for fears of “scaring them off” is completely understandable. That feeling is completely understandable, which is why we recommend gradual change. Slowly add new offers into your marketing plan while taking others away in order to test what works.

Knowing that you’re not alone in this process can be reassuring. From the smallest of local businesses to the biggest brands, companies are testing the waters and slowly training customers to think about shopping in new ways. The see the benefit of changing the way they engage with customers and understand that customers need to extend the value of the dollar. Especially in times of economic stress, shoppers want to help their neighbors and give back any way they can. Brands realize that supporting causes gives shoppers a mutually beneficial way to fulfill this desire.

Consumers need to spend money. However, they want to spend their hard-earned dollars at retailers that support causes they agree with, are aligned with community values, and will reward their loyal customers. Increasingly they want to support causes in their own neighborhood because increasingly their own neighbors and communities are in need. There is a push to buy local, support grocers that sell locally grown produce, and support the community. In addition, they are becoming less inclined to shop at businesses that don’t support these causes.

American Express began the program “Small Business Saturday” as a way to extend the initial holiday shopping season beyond Black Friday through the weekend. Their approach was to focus on small businesses, though only small businesses that accepted their credit card. This was a way to gain additional revenue by extending the “event” of the Black Friday shopping tradition. By positioning this as a way to support small businesses, those largely portrayed as being affected by the economic downturn, they gained consumer support in their use of their marketing messaging.

American Express also recognized that while shoppers are interested in supporting small businesses and their local community, they are also interested in saving money and are accustomed to holiday sales and coupons. They acknowledged this habit by offering additional incentives to ‘do the right thing’ and promoting a time sensitive deal. Their promotion was essentially a rebate, but was promoted as $25 cash back for spending $50 at one or more registered small businesses. This enticed consumers to spend at least $50 and further enticed small businesses to register for the program and accept American Express.

Adjusting to the current economic climate has been difficult for consumers as well as retailers. Therefore, introducing these types of marketing into an overall strategy should be a slow, gradual process. Simple, targeted approaches that combine community, cause and promotional marketing resonate strongest with customers, as they offer customers the chance to have their sense of belonging, giving, helping and saving, all while being treated as elite and special. These also resonate well with businesses, as it allows for controlled discounts and promotions, while maintaining their brand integrity.

As the economy improves, do you think cause, community, and promotional marketing will continue to be a significant part of marketing plans? Let us know in the comments!