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Creative instinct calling

Posted on  22 November 13  by 


by Sumaa Tekur

The world over, more consumers want to go it alone, be their own boss and do what they love. The desire to plunge in and do the new, coupled with a volatile economic environment in which corporate jobs are not safe anymore, has led to a rise in solo business ventures. And with their startup ventures, they’re catering to equally passionate, ambitious and curious consumers. These are consumers who seek unique products and services that tell the story of someone just like them who fought the odds and emerged successful. They want to support such innovators, stand by them and patronize their brand, irrespective of the size of the business.

fim_EntrepreneurialSpiritMedia_382720_2At CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, we believe that this relationship between entrepreneurs and consumers will only grow stronger in time, creating a colourful ecosystem of even more consumer choice. Read about this big shift in the marketplace in CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights’ 2014 Global Top Trends report Entrepreneurial Spirit Connects Consumers.

It has an overview of what’s happening with the growing entrepreneurship trend around the globe, why brands cannot ignore this marketplace shift, what it means to exclusivity-seeking consumers and how individual entrepreneurs and big brands alike can win their attention.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights images

Trading off: Tough choices make life easier for global consumers

Posted on  15 November 13  by 


by Gwyneth Holland

Global austerity is turning out to be a lot less bleak than it sounds. Instead of bewailing their straitened circumstances, the squeezed middle have come up with some clever spending strategies to ensure they can still enjoy the things that matter most — people and passions. But as few global consumers are flush post-recession, they’re cutting down on formerly fundamental spending so they can still get their kicks. We call this Trading Off: People cutting their spend on everyday things like transport, food and housing in order to afford things like smartphones, holidays or tickets to the big game. This new approach to spending might sound foolish, but it’s how consumers are managing to still enjoy their lives when there’s less money around.


As in all things (it seems), the smartphone is king here, with consumers across the globe economizing on dining out, transport costs and new clothes in order to stay connected. Travel is another priority, with many focusing their saving on holidays, whether a far-flung festival trip or a week under canvas. These informed consumers are also showing their savvy by swapping out car purchases for new bikes and swapping foodie fussiness for does-the-job stomach-fillers.

But consumers aren’t just throwing caution to the wind; they’re also making practical changes to their lives to get better for less. Co-housing and multi-generational living are allowing consumers to lower their living costs, as well as encouraging stronger family ties. In times of trouble, people often draw their nearest and dearest closer, but this now has as much to do with necessity as comfort. Consumers’ wellbeing is really at the root of this Trading Off attitude, with values like fun and belonging helping them frame often-tough spending decisions.

photo credit: anjuli_ayer,

Making the emotional connection

Posted on  6 November 13  by 


by Nissa Hanna

Picture this: A hostess planning her first family holiday gathering is shopping for seasonal serving ware. She has an idea of what she wants — some eclectically coordinating pieces for the table — but she doesn’t have any specific items in mind. So she’s at a store and browsing vignettes for ideas. Groupings of platters and bowls in a variety of materials and from a diverse selection of brands inspire her with arrangements that she wouldn’t have thought to put together. She makes her pick and puts a few wood trays and ceramic dishes into her cart — along with a set of linen napkins, because she liked how they looked in a display that featured a couple of her purchases.

fim_MediaERetailEmotional_381633_2Sounds like an in-store scenario, doesn’t it? She’s browsing curated collections, gathering inspiration and following a trail of discovery that leads from one item to the next. But it’s actually a glimpse at the type of emotionally engaging shopping experience that’s emerging in the online channel.

“Emotional commerce is all about taking the best offline shopping experience — of being lured in by storefronts, of browsing through assortments and colors; it is the joy of the hunt and finding something fabulous, having fun while shopping — and making that entire experience even more amazing online.”

—Jason Goldberg, FAB founder and chief executive, 8 April 2013

CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights’ 2014 Global Top Trends report “E-Retail’s Emotional Connection” dives into this next wave of digital shopping. Online started out as the utilitarian channel for convenience and savings, but consumers no longer differentiate between the real and virtual channels, and that change in mindset has shifted expectations for exploratory, social and enjoyment-driven shopping from the sales floor to the screen.

Will every mission to stock up on toilet paper or find a cheap paperback need to be an emotionally engaging experience? No, certainly not. But as this shift progresses, online and offline retail will compete on every front. So it’s important that e-retailers begin to address the roles that curiosity, discovery, creativity and inspiration fill in the online purchase path.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights images

Capitalizing on political dysfunction: The good, the misguided and the silly

Posted on  1 November 13  by 


by Mandy Levenberg

Slacktavism is over and personal responsibility is here to stay. Consumers want to invest with companies who share their values, and they’re looking to brands to help them feel more connected to populations that are most in need. In early October, that population was federal workers and consumers dependent on federal aid — presenting a cause marketing opportunity that wasn’t always handled gracefully.

Starbucks, always flexing its “social good,” has been stirring things up by talking about jobs (as a cause) and politely requesting that there be no guns in its stores. But the company’s most recent campaign, “Come Together,” feels the least thought out, the most contrived and the least in touch with its customers’ visceral need to feel connected to actual sufferers of government dysfunction.

#ComeTogether involved petitions and promptings of consumers to buy coffee for another person in line. But the difference that people want to make when it comes to social issues — hunger, jobs and even a government shutdown — is not one of signatures and potentially awkward, non-anonymous handouts. Consumers wanted to know how they could do something for individuals who were affected by the shutdown, and they wanted to feel connected to the solution. #ComeTogether injected a political agenda into commerce, and gave the public a false sense of accomplishment for merely clicking to sign a petition (and even so, the petition had only a 0.6% response rate). Starbucks needs to slow down and adopt sustainable campaigns that let people truly connect with one another.

Some brands toyed with the shutdown and kept it light as the public was mocking (and blaming) DC officials for being unable to compromise. The Web was filled with memes and lists of budget-cut failures, which in a sense was a go-ahead for many brands to publicly make fun of the government as a means of gaining publicity (Denny’s tweeted: “We might waffle but we never shut down. #alwaysopen #governmentshutdown.”) Keeping it light is the better way to go, as long as affected individuals are actually getting perks. One of America’s biggest movie theater chains, AMC Theatres, offered a free small popcorn from October 1-10 for all patrons with a valid government or military ID. The deal’s fine print read: “Offer valid until common sense returns, or we run out of popcorn, whichever happens first.”

Other campaigns weren’t so lighthearted, but they offered a clear and present benefit. TD Bank launched its “TD Cares” initiative to provide federal employees with access to their funds at no cost during the shutdown, and flexibility with credit card and mortgage payments. From October 6-13, Boston Market gave all federal employees and military personnel a whole chicken for free with the purchase of a family meal. Korean automaker Hyundai announced that it would defer car payments for federal employees during the government shutdown.

Next up on the cause opportunity trail: the Affordable Care Act website debacle. It remains to be seen if brands inside or outside of the healthcare space engage with consumers in an empathic and informative way, but brands that can help people navigate the ACA maze will emotionally differentiate themselves and engender loyalty.


What’s driving Europe’s Millennials

Posted on  31 October 13  by 


by Aisling Balfe

Think Millennials in Europe are all downtrodden and depressed? Think again. These young adults may be dealing with a challenging economic situation and an even more challenging job market, but they’re determined to make the best of a tough reality. Knowing that there’s little they can do to change the bigger picture, young adults in Europe are looking to find fun and enjoyment in the everyday. In CEB Iconoculture’s Europe’s Millennials research brief, we identify four coping mechanisms that highlight how they’ve embraced a collective mindset and established a range of creative ways of getting by:

fim_EuropeanMillennialsRB_381507_2We’re all in this together
Despite a dismal economy, European Millennials have a growing sense of community and are turning to their peers to make the best of a bad situation. From supporting niche, independent brands to joining co-housing initiatives, Millennials are looking to help each other in a collective and community-oriented way.

It’s cool to save
Forget the stigma; young people across Europe are using savvy deal-seeking as a way to live in the now and maintain their lifestyles. Social kudos and individual pride often accompany the proclamation of using a voucher or finding a great deal. Thrift stores are the new high streets, as European Millennials embrace the idea that second-hand is no longer second best.

Bettering the buy
European Millennials may be scaling back, but that doesn’t mean they’re scrimping on quality. Instead of buying more, they’re opting to buy better. Quality has become a major consideration in their purchase-decision process, especially when they’re spending their own money.

Right to roam
They may not have the money to travel and experience new places now, but that doesn’t stop them dreaming. Across every country, travel was mentioned as a major aspiration, with Millennials making goal-oriented savings for future excursions.

photo credit: Akk_rus,


Trust, helpfulness and banking

Posted on  30 October 13  by 


by Derek Stubbs

There exists a variety of ways that one can divine best practices in financial services. The problem is that “best” practices from a consumer perspective can be few and far between in this category. From our perspective, and you’ve heard us say this many times, the best financial brands and products are those that bring a measure of “simplicity” or “clarity” to the complex array of products and services that comprise financial services.

This is the core of overcoming the trust gap. In practice it is the idea of showing consumers that they can trust a company as opposed to telling them that they can. This can be translated through look-and-feel, product-and-service design, responsiveness, and on and on and on. In this manner, we are very keen on prioritizing functional benefits over warm-and-fuzzy branding. It’s not that we’re opposed to the warm-and-fuzzies; we are more directly evaluating those who are cutting to the heart of the matter most quickly.

Recently, the Aspen Institute’s Initiative on Financial Security addressed the problem of trust and codified the functional benefit of brands this way:

Aspen Institute and BAV, April 2013

Aspen Institute and BAV, April 2013









Helpfulness emerged as the primary driver of trust in financial services. Simplicity, from our perspective, is essential to helpfulness, far outstripping how smart one is, or what one’s “value” (i.e., cost) is, or anthemic brand shingles like heritage or “tradition.” How would Aspen categorize brands in the banking industry as outlined above? This way:

Aspen Institute and BAV, April 2013

Aspen Institute and BAV, April 2013












We couldn’t agree more. By the time one gets to the bottom of the above visual, I think we could all breathe a sigh of “no duh.” If I can’t trust you, and the news cycle won’t let me forget the reasons why, and you’re not helpful, you’d better believe that you’re going to end up at the bottom of everyone’s list.

USAA, on the other hand, would likely sit at the top of anyone’s FS best-practices list. They are nearly universally admired for their marketing, customer service, customer satisfaction and product and services design. As you know, they sell far more than just banking products. Being, in essence, a “closed credit union” or “mutual” company — they sell only to military servicemen and women and their families, as well as to firefighters and police officers and their families — they don’t have widespread reach. Still, USAA is our all-around best-practices provider.

Marketing Best Practices

Schwab: I grow weary of carting this one out all of the time, but this “Talk to Chuck” execution is among my favorites. It addresses the disconnect between marketing hooey — overly aspirational ideas of “retirement” — and the functional benefit of “practical” solutions. Moreover, the very look and feel of this ad conveys the notions of clarity we’re discussing.

Bessemer Trust: Again, the simplicity of the messaging here connotes what one might expect when engaging this wealth management firm. Even acknowledging that there is a trust problem is a refreshingly honest approach. Trust = honesty. Who knew?!

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Property and Casualty Insurance: For a bit more fun, and also some excellent ways to discuss difficult subjects, there’s the entire P&C industry. We love Flo (Progressive), Mayhem (Allstate), the other guy from Oz (Farmers), Liberty Mutual’s campaign, and on and on. Having gone D2C early on, compared with the rest of FS, P&C has done much to understand how to speak meaningfully and clearly with consumers.

Product Best Practices

Barclaycard Ring: A very highly rated (by consumers) offering that is almost completely crowdsourced. Fees, rewards, benefits. Card members tell the card what it will be and what they need, not the other way around. Very “Collaborative Economy.”

Barclays Family Springboard Mortgage: We wrote about this too. Essentially, this product from the British Bank gives new mortgage seekers credit for their parents’ loyalty and portfolio, providing family members with breaks on terms and fees that only repeat customers traditionally receive.

AFS: Alternative financial services have much to offer. We’ve talked before of Motif Investing. There are plenty of others. For a quick hit on some of the most recent excellent examples, check out our blog post from last month’s Finovate. Pay particular attention to the mentions of Tandem from Yodlee and Think Finance’s Elastic. Very consumer-need-focused product development.

Customer Service Best Practices

Amica: Amica is known for its responsiveness and speed, a.k.a. “service and performance,” which are the differentiating factors for “high-asset” financial decisions. Although they don’t have local agents in various footprints, and can be awfully choosy about who their customers are, they certainly receive high marks for actually delivering on promises. How helpful is that?

Credit Issuers and Associations: Chase’s Sapphire card is widely valued for the fact that they always “pick up the phone.” You can say this about any of the card issuers or associations. American Express is excellent here, obviously. As are Citi, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and on and on. One of the reasons for this is that, as with P&C, cards have been on the forefront of D2C marketing in financial services and therefore know far more about their own customers than the rest of the industry.




How well do you know the Boomers?

Posted on  25 October 13  by 


by Nissa Hanna

He’s an outdoorsy guy who likes hitting the bars and going to the movies. She enjoys shopping for clothes and keeping in touch with her friends via texting or social media.


You’d be forgiven for thinking that these are snapshots from the lives of modern young adults, but they’re actually profiles of today’s Boomers. They’re the generation that’s changing what life looks like on the other side of 50: vacationing with friends; taking care of kids who are still living at home; continuing their education; and starting small businesses. You can bet that they’ll make great advancements around the quality-of-life expectations for one’s older years — for themselves and those behind them.

But even their forever-young mindset and pluck aren’t enough to shape an entirely auspicious future. They’re turning the corner to older age at a time when critical factors are uncertain. Overall, their health is on shaky ground while their finances and employment status are still recovering from the recession.

These changes and moving pieces make it all the more important for marketers to have a nuanced understanding of Boomers. Yes, they’re a massive generation, and yes, they’ve passed significant cultural milestones together; but recent experiences have shaped a few distinctive groups. CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights’ 50+ Nation Research Brief will help you understand the complexity and diversity of this cohort. Our report examines how five key Boomer archetypes are managing unexpected pressures, adapting their youthful mentalities to older-age realities and doing their best to lay the foundation for security and happiness in the next chapter. Because knowing your real Boomer audience is the key to crafting messaging that avoids stereotypes and syncs with their actual needs and values.

photo credit: DailyInvention,

Men and women want to be approached as consumers, not gender-based clichés

Posted on  21 October 13  by 


by Stefania Revelli

Historically we have drawn a clear, hard line between men and women by attitudes, behaviors, roles and category differences (moms clean, dads grill). Consequently, gender-based marketing has followed suit — guys go for bikinis and burgers, and women like pink and cuddly, right? Gendered marketing has a long history of tapping into these kinds of stereotypical notions in an attempt to come across as more attractive and personally relevant to guys or gals. But homing in on the supposed differences between men and women can yield a picture of sharp disparity and is a dangerous way to market today.


Few will argue anymore that there are distinct behavioral differences between men and women.  Clearly, physical attributes separate the two, and women are still more likely to shop for groceries, while men are more apt to be caught looking at tools and televisions. But a significant shift in traditionally defined gender dynamics is grounded in a more shared sense of responsibility in and outside the home. More men are grocery shopping and engaging in household chores, women’s economic power is on the rise, and partnered households increasingly embrace a more cooperative approach to decision making and life management. This all translates into new purchase behaviors and patterns and undeniably blurs the hard line between male-targeted and female-targeted traditional marketing.

With gender dynamics in America rapidly shifting, the old rules of gender marketing are in desperate need of rewriting. Speaking directly to gender isn’t wrong — so long as marketers understand when and how it’s appropriate. In He Said, She Said, CEB Iconoculture explores gender-based marketing that relies less on a Mars vs. Venus approach and more on values and experiences that are equally important to both sexes. Discover what difference gender really makes and to what degree men and women experience equity.

photo credit: Omar Gumah,



Shutdown on the menu

Posted on  4 October 13  by 


by Ramin Ganeshram

Safety. Purity. Reality. Simplicity.

You could call these the four pillars of the New Healthy Eater. This everyconsumer has a simple mantra: Make it real, make it clear and make it safe. It’s a position based on seeing what you get and understanding what you see. But thanks to the government shutdown even the most savvy consumers will find that trusting their own eyes will not be enough to keep their families safe at the grocery store or a favorite restaurant.

What does the ongoing congressional battle of the budget have to do with what’s on your plate?


Among the furloughed federal employees are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors tasked with ensuring the safety of the food we buy to make at home or buy prepared for us in restaurant. This might not seem like a big deal — how often do recalls really happen anyway?

Last Thursday, FDA inspectors triggered a recall of 50,000 pounds of ground beef.  This Thursday 90,000 pounds of ground beef used for the National School Lunch program was recalled because of a plastic contaminant. Last summer there was a 300,000-pound ground beef recall in New Jersey. These are just a recent few of the thousands of recalls the FDA enacts every year.

And if a foodborne illness outbreak happens, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) won’t be online to help manage the public health crisis and get help for those affected.

One can always hope that a contamination (including an allergen, pathogen or foreign substance) that would normally trigger a recall might simply not happen. Or that producers will self-police effectively enough to step in where the FDA is absent. But considering that the US continues to rate in the top 10 of countries with food-safety recalls, and food-borne illnesses sicken millions of Americans each year with the FDA watchdogs at their post, this is not likely.

At the (literal) ground level, farmers who depend on the Farm Services Administration (FSA) for loans are finding themselves a dollar short, which could mean the suspension of capital improvements and other food production activities.

Those collecting food and nutrition aid managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have to seek food assistance elsewhere.

There are obvious business impacts to brands, such as the possibility of serving or selling tainted food; long-term production problems among supplier-farmers, and even the loss of business supplying foods for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Then there is the potential impact on the healthcare industry — trying to manage a major public health crisis.

Yet the more subtle impacts are equally insidious and have potentially longer-range impact: the widening of a trust gap that separated consumers from government and from brands during the recessionary economy and hasn’t really closed up dramatically since.

The result is a new hyper-aware consumer who senses danger at every turn, fueled in part by the inability to control the most basic human need: food and drink.

Deprived of a clear sense of control over food quality (after all , your ground meat may look safe, but you can’t see listeria, can you) and abandoned by the trusted agencies that were created to safeguard us all, this consumer is poised to engage in ever more Control Freak behavior over every food interaction to come.

Look for those feelings to intensify, especially if this shutdown drags on or, more disastrously, if a major food-related problem (whether due to contamination or lack of nutrition for those in need) should come to pass.

What does this mean to your brand? Consider this list of action items. You’ll find that they aren’t that different from what we’ve been saying about what the new food-aware consumer now wants, but they may be more urgent now.

  • Be transparent: Outline production processes that could help assuage the fear that the process could break without oversight.
  • Share: What is your plan for a recall or a shortage?
  • Be a good citizen. Can your brand do good by stepping in where furloughed nutritional assistance programs can’t help?

Even if the shutdown ended today, the longer-term sense of anger, unease and distrust could very well remain. After all, the foundation was set back in ’09 in the deepest part of the Great Recession. Given that fact, practices enacted today to address a very current political reality could build long-term partnership opportunities with consumers well into the future.

The government shutdown doesn’t matter. Unless…

Posted on  4 October 13  by 


by Derek Stubbs and Kara McGuire

The world is ending! The government won’t pay its bills! The economy is going to collapse!

No. No. And, uh, no. Since 1976 there have been 18 federal government shutdowns, including the current one, that have ranged anywhere from one day to three weeks, totaling just over 100 days. As of this writing, the current stoppage is three days. Every single one of them began on either the last day of September or into the calendar-year fourth quarter, which is the start of the government’s fiscal year. And, unless memory serves incorrectly, none has caused the world to end. It won’t end now, either.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t political and economic consequences, but it is not the apocalypse spewing from the overpaid blowhards of your favorite media property, nor is it the Armageddon proclaimed by your political party of choice. It is serious and foolish business being played out on a grand scale, to be sure, and if there is one consequence that we can all agree on, it is that we will trust our leaders even less than we do now.

What will matter is the length of this stoppage. This has been the phenomenon we’ve been discussing since the Great Recession hit: The length, depth and breadth of a downturn gain their own kind of economic momentum. Here are the major areas we should be mindful of should the shutdown become intractable.

  • Consumer spending: This is perhaps the most worrisome area for our clients. Nearly a million furloughed workers is just the beginning. There are scores of millions of private-industry employees who are working for companies with government contracts.

For now, those employees are holding their jobs. The CDC’s flu shot program could end, meaning more days missed from work in any sector due to illness. If the shutdown stretches for weeks or months, then we will see an immediate impact on consumer spending just in time for Christmas and Thanksgivukkah. (It’s a thing! Look it up!) Don’t look for wholesale behavioral changes, though. Remember, since the credit bubble never re-inflated post-recession we will not see massive changes in the way consumers choose products and services. We will merely see a decrease in spending across the board.

  • The stock market: Thus far, the market has shrugged off the political scrum. If the dollar begins to suffer, however, it will have an unappealing effect on bonds, as well as on individual and institutional investors alike. Look for wild swings as investors of all sizes seek to maximize returns and to seek out newer, more stable markets. Good luck with that, by the way. The biggest concern of this for our clients is that the stock market disproportionately impacts wealthier individuals, which means that targeting the affluent will no longer be the perceived safe haven it has been since the “recovery” began.
  • Shifted purchasing: Millions of Americans who participate in jeopardized programs such as WIC will be forced to stretch their resources painfully thin, tweaking what they spend their precious dollars on and where. More food, more dollar stores, fewer discretionary items. This hurts for Americans who are already in financial pain.
  • Small business support: No new loans from the Small Business Administration. Sorry, budding entrepreneurs. Programs to help small businesses run by veterans or seeking government contracts would also cease. According to a poll conducted by researchers at Pepperdine University’s business school, 41% of small-business owners with revenue of less than $5 million said that if the shutdown lasted for more than three months, they’d have to scale back on hiring. Not good for an economy still stumbling four years after the end of the recession.

Clearly we’re keeping an eye on all the areas of consumer behavior that are affected by this and other issues. For now, though, let’s all just hope that the political game of chicken comes to a sensible close sooner than later.