The 'New Simplicity': Why Bigger Isn't Always Better

  • by , Columnist, October 5, 2010
Last month, I teased the notion raised by our research that we are cycling through a surprising but significant period of consumer backlash against what for much of the first decade of this new century had been an insatiable appetite for the "super-sized." The dawn of the 21st Century saw an incessant push towards "bigger, better, faster" that ultimately led to a "massification" of luxury brands.

This phenomenon first took these once-elusive brands to Main Street, and then, in many cases, ultimately detracted from the exclusivity and prestige that these brands initially sought to convey. Their special differentiating characteristics were often eroded among truly high-end customers, as these brands became more mass. Now, with the continuation of double-digit unemployment, against negative personal savings rates and piles of consumer debt, the tables have quickly turned. We are still clawing our way out of an economy that has not fully righted itself, and the current consumer mindset brings significant implications for sports marketers. The prevailing attitude has become one of calculated rather than conspicuous consumption. This has converged with two other factors that should give us all reason to take pause against using the snob appeal approach as "default positioning" for your sports brand.

1. It's About Value and Unique Experiences

As I've maintained in the past, "value" does not necessarily mean cheap. Today's version of the bigger, better deal is more in line with prevailing boomer desires to confront a perceived lack of "quality" time with fulfilling and unique experiences. In our golf-related research, this speaks to more creative offerings of socially rather than competitively oriented golf leagues, tiered pricing and nine hole or pay-by-the hole options.

In research with sports fans, it evokes such recent innovations as the "All You Can Eat Section" at the ball park, and special insider offers like opportunities to tour the locker room, play a softball game at the stadium, or meet team or league executives up close and personal. It's about making the customer feel special in creative ways that confront waning consumer trust and emphatically recognize that for the first time in nearly a decade, the customer is questioning whether they may have been sold a bill of goods, during all of those years when quantity or opulence often masqueraded as easily accessible quality.

2. Returning to the Cocoon and Brand Community

Futurist Faith Popcorn coined the term "cocooning" several years ago to speak to consumers' desire to cling to those people and situations that provide the greatest sense of security, comfort and stability during trying times. I first saw direct evidence of this when, in the dark shadow of 9/11, we were engaged to assess whether the game of golf still held a special place for avid participants.

Somewhat to our client's surprise, the game, when positioned as one of those truly comforting escapes from all of life's distractions and challenges, was actually seen as a special and safe place ... a welcome respite that addressed a need for comfort and consistency, and evoked a simplicity and familiarity that was coveted amidst the chaos.

Again, our research suggests that with the proliferation of new gadgets and constant upgrades, of instant this and bigger that, the consumer has begun to say "enough," and with that comes a desire for the meaningful versus the superficial; for a sense of belonging to a close knit community of like minded people. For many, sports can fill that space ... as long as we continue to make it accessible and inviting. It's really that simple.

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