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CHICAGO – Research suggests a new set of consumer attitudes and behaviors has emerged since Sept. 11, and marketers may want to take note as they plan for the rest of this year and the first quarter of 2002. Advertising agency Leo Burnett USA has identified four distinct groups that have emerged: * The Close to Home Group – Representing 27% of the American population, they’re very nervous about the future and strongly believe the attacks will cause an economic depression. They are buying only the necessities. They’re very price sensitive, and are most likely to turn to familiar brands. * Business as Usual – The group accounts for 30% of the population; 80% report no change in their likelihood to go shopping at malls, and only 3% plan to delay major purchases. * Forging Ahead – The 33% of Americans who fall in this category have the highest confidence in American business and the economy’s future. According to Burnett analysts, maintaining brand preference with this group is a key to brand health. * Different Drummer – They form 11% of the U.S. population. They believe American policies are partially to blame for the attacks. This group is the most, as researchers put it, “economically challenged.” Denise Fedewa, senior vice president/planning director at Burnett, points out some of these groups indicate they will put off a lot of purchases, while others say they’re going ahead. Their decisions will impact car loans, mortgages and other lending at credit unions. “Business as Usual people are not postponing large purchases. They are the group most likely to proceed with whatever they were planning to do. You probably don’t need to change your marketing to that group,” she says. “With the Close to Home and Forging Ahead groups, they need a little additional reason to go ahead with taking out that loan or making a major purchase. The Close to Home group clearly told us they are putting things off. That group is going to be hard to move, no matter what you do. Some kind of price incentive, along with maybe different terms that make them feel more secure, are going to be really important.” The Forging Ahead group, Fedewa continues, shares a lot of the same feelings. Again, with the right offer and the right circumstances, they probably can be wooed. Fedewa notes these groups cover a wide spectrum. It isn’t as simple as tapping into your CIS to identify members in the key homebuying age group and sending out a direct mail piece. Psychology, rather than demographics, pretty much dictates into which group a member will fall. She says you have to look at your current business situation. Are members coming in at a steady pace to take out loans and invest money? If so, you may be able to conduct business as usual just as they are. But with 27% of Americans saying they’re not participating in the economy right now, that could be enough to impact teller and loan department traffic. “If you decide that’s true, then you might want to develop a marketing program with some kind of message geared to them. It will spill over into some of the other groups, too,” Fedewa suggests. One thing does ease the marketer’s decisions. Because each group is so demographically diverse, you can pretty much use the same advertising media you usually employ. As for the message itself, “Credit unions have a brand they are creating,” Fedewa says. “You are trying to create as many believers in that brand as possible. That’s how you end up having a strong brand.” “What we found in our study is there are certain aspects of a brand that people are really looking for – a brand being a guardian, a protector, a leader, standing for connectivity among people.” There are other brand attributes the research showed people don’t want right now. They don’t want a brand that appears to be a luxury, elite, or super-aggressive. So if you’re marketing home equity loans, you might be better off showing a member using that money in a way that seems sensible. For example, the research hints people are more interested than ever in fixing up their homes. Whenever possible, Fedewa urges, highlight the aspects of your credit union that fit what people do want. “Yet it would be a fatal mistake for you to move all the way over there if your brand has not had those elements in the past. In other words, don’t just suddenly change brand persona to fit with the times,” she emphasizes. Could credit unions enjoy something of an advantage in the sense they like to stress they’re member-owned and responsive to member needs? “Those would definitely be important things right now,” Fedewa agrees. “People are expressing a strong desire for brands to talk about how they’re part of the community and how they connect to people.” She offers a final philosophical point. “For businesses that are leaders in the community, such as credit unions and other financial institutions, it’s almost their obligation to step up and try to get some of these consumers back and participating in the economy. “Right now we could be falling into a vicious cycle. The more nervous people get the less they spend. The less they spend the more the economy stalls. I know many of the companies we work with feel it is almost their patriotic duty as leaders in the business community to do whatever they can to get the consumer moving again.” A number of businesses, she says, indicate they’re willing to take some deep discounts in order to get the nation’s economic momentum going. -

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