consumer confidence trending up…right now

On December 27, 2011, the Conference Board released their latest on Consumer Confidence. The trend over time is what is most telling. How volatile confidence is today is startling.  

2011 started off strong – only to peak in February and then decline through October.  As we head into 2012,  to have any good news on this front is – surprising and we’ll see.  Today, the Index is momentarily climbing.

 After two months of considerable gains, the Consumer Confidence Index is now back to levels seen last spring (April 2011, 66.0). Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved again.

Looking ahead, consumers are more optimistic that business conditions, employment prospects, and their financial situations will continue to get better. While consumers are ending the year in a somewhat more upbeat mood, it is too soon to tell if this is a rebound from earlier declines or a sustainable shift in attitudes.” – Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center

10 years of consumer confidence

 The graph below provides a perspective using the  U.S. Consumer Confidence Index over the past tumultuous decade.

Some of the major events of the era are noted to illustrate their effects on how people feel.  For example,  when the US experiences a new war,  natural disaster, or other severe crisis, the index gauges the reaction and eventual recovery. What it doesn’t show is how this process changes people and how they process value.

Key Take-away: To early to tell if this is a meaningful trend. Stay tuned.    (click the graphic to enlarge)

 Worth Visiting: The Conference Board


how people really shop and a few marketing insights

Today people shop and buy differently thanks to the internet – unsurprising.  However when two landmark studies quantify the process of shopping,  some surprises that have big implications to marketing emerge. Let’s start with the old thinking to better understand what’s new.   (Will it be “Fun”?  Of course it will. ;)

BOTTOM-LINE: Marketers need to understand how people shop today and align their activities accordingly to be most effective. 

the traditional funnel

This outdated model was developed before the prevalence of the internet when there was a barrier to information. Consider: Consumer Reports was a trip to the library and advertising was actually considered somewhat trustworthy.

1 – A person will “recognize a need” and actively begin shopping.

2 – People start with a large number of potential brands in mind. Being in this “Top of Mind” group of brands is the pay-off for “branding advertising”.

3 – Next people enter into a consideration phase. Here they compare features…no make that benefits – and methodically subtract  brands in consideration until… This is when marketing pummels people with “push” advertising telling them why their brand is best…and it worked for a long time. 

4 – Eventually, people emerge with a decision and purchase .

McKinsey & Co.’s Consumer Decision Journey

2008 – 20,000 consumers – 5 industries – 3 continents

You have to love our friends at McKinsey & Company as they always go BIG. In this study, McKinsey illustrates exactly why the Traditional Funnel no longer applies and how marketing should purposefully address the different stages of the consumer decision journey

It begins with triggers that set people on the path of purchasing.  (There are huge ideas here for real estate… ;)

STAGE 1 – Initial Consideration. People start off with certain brands in mind. Interestingly, there are not that many brands included in this initial consideration set. (Ranking the highest was Autos at only 3.8 brands.) (Getting into the Initial Consideration set  is the pay-off for all that “branding advertising” marketers invest in. It seems wasted, until people are triggered and then remember you. However, this is only the beginning. If your marketing stops here  – OUCH!)

STAGE 2 – Active Evaluation. Here people add and subtract brands as they evaluate what they want.

People aren’t just starting with a fixed pool of brand options and then whittling it down from there. They are starting with a small net and then expanding it to consider more brand options.  (It’s in Active Evaluation that a new brand can enter in and knock an Initial Consideration competitor out of the running. If you’re not active in Stage 2…)

And to make things even more interesting, 67% of the information used in Active Evaluation involve consumer-driven marketing touchpoints (reviews, recommendations, past experiences, in-store interactions). Only 33% is company-driven. (So marketers would be well-advised to learn how to influence those consumer-driven touchpoints. Content marketing anyone? Social Media anyone? Experience Focus perhaps? Are you budgeting appropriately?)

STAGE 3 – Moment of Purchase. Ultimately, people emerge with a decision and purchase. It may be made on-line, in a store, or in a sales office.

STAGE 4 – Postpurchase Experience. After experiencing what they purchased, people will use the information to generate more consumer-driven information and the cycle continues.

Google’s Zero Moment of Truth.

2011 – 5,000 consumers – 12 industries – 1 continent

Rather than approach the purchasing decision journey from the consumer behavior perspective, Google look’s at the shopping dynamic through the lens of a marketing model by P&G. Continue reading

homebuilders are getting social…

Last time, we discussed how people use social media channels in real life …AND that by “going with” the culture & purpose of each channel, companies can build valuable relationships, brand equity and ultimately revenue.  (click graphic to enlarge)

The following builds on that concept. Enjoy!   ———

Below are a few of the brands in real estate that really “get social media” and why they are so engaging.  (To find these inspiring examples, the following were reviewed:  public builders, 2010 JD Powers listed builders for Southern California and their top regional builders and more.)

some social homebuilders…

LENNAR (National) – Hard to imagine that anyone would deny that Lennar leads in social media for this category. Over 87,000 people ‘Like’ them on Facebook and 94,000 follow on Twitter. However, that’s not why the nation’s 3rd largest homebuilder is listed here (but it sure doesn’t hurt!)

Responsive.  Be polite and even gracious. With 94K Twitter followers, Continue reading

social media – in real life…

Perhaps you  know someone who shuns social media,  but doesn’t really understand what it is they are rejecting.  Then there are those who recognize the various social media names – enjoy Facebook perhaps – but they are still a bit fuzzy on what people use the various channels for. They know something interesting is happening… but what is it?

This ‘fuzziness” about what people are really doing on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Focus, YouTube, blogs and now Google+  isn’t limited to your mom.

Companies of all sizes jump into the social space and proceed to  “go against the grain with what  people are doing there”.  It’s like sitting down suddenly at a stranger’s dinner, bringing out a sales presentation for insurance and then later wondering why you didn’t get the result you wanted.

2 reasons to “get” how people use social media

1. Social media offers valuable tools that can  enhance your  life…not replace it.    It can open your world in ways that – inspire, teach, entertain.

When you do get involved, the thing that may surprise you is that in these very tech-driven spaces, most of the experiences feel quite “human”.  I say “most”  because there are people who will constantly try to sell you something, promise you’ll get “rich while eating pizza”  etc.

However, that noise quickly fades into the background as you can tune out- unfollow-unlike as you like, similar to “tivo’ing the commercials”.

2.  Social media can get you closer to customers to demonstrate a) who you are and b) why you are relevant.  Do this well and you will build valuable brand equity and grow revenue. Consider the recent survey by Forbes Insights that found on average Global Brand Executives now attribute 52% of their brand’s reputation to how “social” it is today.

This is about sitting down to a dinner you were invited to and being an enjoyable guest…who is asked back. Then eventually invited to parties.  Hopefully, lots of parties. (yes a metaphor for sales & recommendations) 

a candid take on what’s happening

The key objective in the graphic below is to illustrate what’s really going on online, so you can make an informed decision on where you want to spend time and how it may help you.  (click here for the pdf)

Key Takeaways for Marketers

For brands hoping to garner attention in the social space, build positive brand equity, and earn additional sales – a couple of key points:

  1. Bring content to the table that fits with what people are really doing on that channel.
  2. Mind the culture, be polite, be positive and above all be “human”.  Remember behind almost every word, sound & image is a real life breathing person.

Next Post: Part 2 “Homebuilder are Getting Social”  Stay tuned.

Consumer Confidence – Where are we now?

On September 28, 2011, the Conference Board released their latest on Consumer Confidence. The trend over time is what is most telling. How volatile confidence is today is startling.  

In February  2011, the Consumer Confidence Index reached 72 – a level not seen since First Quarter 2008.  In Southern California, Builders & Developers started the year with feelings of  cautious optimism in terms of neighborhood openings, planning, and land acquisition / land sales.  Then, we started to lose ground quickly .  

To say that in August Confidence fell off a cliff” would unfortunately Continue reading

What a ‘Brand’ Is and 3 Reasons to Care – Now.

One of my favorite homebuilders got a new logo passed down from corporate recently. When proudly asked by the CEO if they liked the “new brand” – they answered yes. No deeper than that. 

The slightly depressing reality behind this common story is that what could have been an amazing differentiation for a builder – won’t be.  (Indeed, we are in a time when those in the building industry and beyond need to not miss a step, yet many of the steps needed today -never even enter the picture.)  So…let’s start with…

what is a ‘brand’?

A Brand – is what people perceive about a product or a company.  It’s everything that’s been heard, seen…felt about it.  It’s your reputation from yesterday &  today. To really get this – a favorite quote:

If you’re not metaphorically “standing in front of your audience” with promotion and people understand, like and/or talk about you positively – that’s worth something to your bottom-line.  It’s known as positive brand equity.

However- if when you leave the room, the real stories come out and you’re basically looking like a jerk – well no logo is getting you out of that.

3 reasons to care about ‘brand’ – today

Some of you may consider this question a “no-brainer”.  Still, Builders, Developers and other companies with millions of dollars in assets go no deeper than a logo, graphic continuity and maybe a surface competitive positioning when considering their brand.  3 reasons to care about your  “brand” now:

#1  Your Real Brand Can Move Faster Than Ever Before in History

Social media has lifted back the curtain on companies and transparency to the public continues to increase.

It used to be that a problem in the sales office- never got past our 10 closest friends. Now we go to our car – briefly “Like” the brand on Facebook and if possible “briefly” post to their wall telling their whole following that they suck. Then onto our wall to tell our 400 friends about it and for good measure we  jump onto twitter to yell at them again. This takes us all of 4 minutes. Then we start to calm down,  while corporate scrambles to get us to chat privately – or ignores us.

That said,  social media also allows brands an interactive voice to build relationships like never before.  Here when a “problem” arises, you think “Wow that’s not what ____ is about.”  and you get in touch to let them know what’s going on. The heat is lessened in the situation. Sure you’re still pissed, but hopefully the relationship is deeper than just that one salesperson / customer service agent / superintendent.

Bottom-line: Social media communicates your brand in a new, more personal way and can spread directly to your target customer faster than ever before. 

#2. Organizational Effectiveness.

Last week, I read an article titled “The 10 Most Hated Jobs” – 2 of them were in marketing.

“2 –  Director of Sales and Marketing – … The majority who responded negatively cited a lack of direction from upper management and an absence of room for growth as the main sources of their ire.

10 –  Marketing Manager –  respondents in this position most often cited a lack of direction as the primary reason for job dissatisfaction. The most optimistic respondent described it as “tolerable,” and gave it the faintest praise possible by saying, “It’s a job.” (In this labor market, that’s not such a bad thing.)

These are the folks primarily focused on building brand equity and positive momentum for sales…and their biggest complaint is Lack of Direction. [sigh]

Here’s the question – “How can employees build relationships and demonstrate what their company/community/product brand is about – if no one ever clearly told them what it was about?”

People will try. They will interpret as best they can, but with no framework to refer to, the experience provided will vary for customers. The brand perception is muddled and not worth mentioning.

Bottom-line: It takes an intentional team approach to build a remarkable brand. 

#3.  Positive Brand Equity is Valuable.

Years ago a gentleman I worked for who is rightfully considered a leader in the community development industry told me you couldn’t build brand equity. It happened naturally – it was earned.

Today, with transparency at an all-time high – if you set your brand equity goals with your team; perform for customers consistently to meet that goal, and openly communicate the real experience as the social space allows like never before– you can  build positive brand equity. It will be rightfully earned by the team, and not just a natural occurrence.

Become a truly remarkable brand and the value would be: a predisposition for people to consider your product/service/(–approval); a faster sales process; higher referral rate;  lower marketing cost per sale (aka higher ROI) ; competitive differentiation; higher product value. It depends on the team.

Bottom-line:  Companies can intentionally build positive brand equity & it’s worth it. 


KEY TAKE-AWAY:  When you walk out of the room – what do you want people to say? 

At HM-2, we help companies and planned communities clearly define their Brand, engage their teams and intentionally build valuable brand equity. It’s a journey worth taking to get ahead of competitors and excel with customers.

When Surf City becomes NikeTown: 5 lessons in brand experience

Huntington Beach, CAI may live in one of the most branded towns in the U.S.. Afterall, Huntington Beach threw-down with Santa Cruz  to capture the trademark on “Surf City USA” .  However – every year about this time, the big guns come to town with the US Open of Surfing and school everyone on brand experience.

It’s about that time again and I find myself thinking back to how well that 9-day experience comes together and plunges everyone into a world of surf – youth culture – freedom – accessibility creativity and lots of products.  So what is it that these marketers do so successfully to take physical and virtual participants on this journey?

What follows are a few key take-aways to  inspire new approaches to cultivating engaging experiences.

lesson 1 : review positioning

The U.S. Open of Surfing is a respected competition that dates back to 1959. Many might say,  “don’t mess with an institution”, but in the late 1990’s the contest had fallen on hard times. The appeal of sitting on the shoreline for hours watching the best surfers in the world compete was limited. 

In 2001,  International Management Group (IMG) – one of the oldest and largest sports marketing firms – took over.   IMG  re-positioned the US Open of Surfing as the anchor of a massive beach lifestyle festival featuring several sports (BMX, skateboarding and volleyball), live music, fashion shows and an interactive festival. 

This moved the event beyond the hard-core surf enthusiasts and tapped into a larger customer group that embraced the underlying lifestyle and values. Now, Continue reading