Using the Recession as an Opportunity

Using the Recession as an Opportunity

Al McClain, Founder & CEO, Retail Wire

A primary theme of the high-energy general session on Day Two of the Nielsen Consumer360 conference was encouraging attendees to use the current recession as a learning opportunity, in order to build better relationships with consumers and/or reinvent business models.

From Nielsen’s James Russo, there was talk of the fact that great companies such as GE, Disney, Microsoft, and HP were started during economic downturns. And, he felt that consumers may soon be spending more, albeit with some restraint. Signs of the recession were everywhere, from a global reduction in out of home entertainment expenditures, to canning and freezing supplies being a top growth category, to a slowing of growth in health and wellness and organics. Home has become the new “center.”

Kraft’s Nick Sorvillo said his company has multiple online consumer panels that tell them that consumers are looking for control and security in their lives. They have discovered new priorities and advantages from living simpler lives – Sorvillo called this “brightsiding.” As 72% of shoppers surveyed said they will continue using new shopping strategies when the economy improves, Kraft has gone about reconnecting with consumers and becoming a dependable, valuable source of help — providing recipes by e-mail, recipe widgets, and an iPhone assistant app that, having launched ten months ago, is in the top 50 iPhone apps.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” and his new book, “Outliers,” said that the recession offers us a chance to rethink assumptions and bad habits accumulated over many years. To him, successful people are aware of their limitations and work harder to overcome them. He noted that some things that we see as advantages, such as small school class sizes, are not necessarily so. For example, many Asian countries that have great educational systems have large class sizes. In essence, one of this theories is that making it too easy for people spoils them and actually inhibits success. In that light, he sees the current poor economy as perhaps providing a highway to creativity – nothing like a crisis to focus the mind.

Ken Romanzi discussed the revitalization of Ocean Spray, as over the past few years the company has jump started sales by educating consumers that their products taste good, and are good for them. Ocean Spray embarked on a heavy P.R. and marketing campaign to reintroduce the cranberry to U.S. consumers, showcasing their products’ heritage, and linking their products to various holidays and celebrations.

Nielsen’s Chairman and CEO, Dave Calhoun, said he has been amazed at the resilience of consumers, as their spending on food and fuel held up until the liquidity crunch of last September. He sees another 12 months’ or so of turmoil and said an important signal will be what consumers are going to do about saving, as so far most of the growth in savings has been involuntary, due to the reduced availability of credit.

All in all, it was an enlightening and entertaining morning – with every bad economic statistic seemingly offset by the notion that the current downturn was eventually going to go away, and until then we have an opportunity to rethink how and what we’re doing. It was also great to see many speakers at the conference using video and audio clips of consumers – giving us much more than just charts and statistics.

Many of the videos of the sessions at Consumer 360 are available on demand at