Identify New Consumer Norms The recession has changed how customers shop, possibly forever.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

American consumers have been profoundly altered by the recession in a way that will have a lasting effect on how they shop and buy. That's the conclusion of "Marketing to the Post-Recession Consumers," a recent study by Decitica , which reveals diverse reactions to the recession resulting in a variety of new "normal" spending patterns.

While age, gender, income and other critical factors continue to shape the way consumers respond to marketing, the lens through which they view marketing offers has changed. And this major, long-term alteration in consumers' spending habits should be reflected in your marketing plans and programs throughout the year and possibly even beyond.

Decitica has identified four distinct consumer segments: Steadfast Frugalists, Involuntary Penny-Pinchers, Pragmatic Spenders and Apathetic Materialists.

  1. Steadfast Frugalists make up about one-fifth of American consumers across all income and age groups. The vast majority of Steadfast Frugalists are committed to self-restraint, are the least brand loyal and expect their new shopping behaviors to stay with them for a long time. Many consider themselves tightwads, according to Decitica.
  2. Involuntary Penny-Pinchers have been forced to embrace thrifty shopping methods, but unlike the Steadfast Frugalists, they're less likely to restrict themselves to buying store brands or generic labels. They have household incomes of less than $50,000, are largely in their 30s and 40s, and like the Steadfast Frugalists, six in 10 are women. The vast majority say they're scared by the recession, are stressed, and they're more worried about the future than other groups.
  3. Pragmatic Spenders have higher spending power, six in 10 are men, and they are largely individuals in their 60s from the Northeast and West. More than one-third of people with household incomes greater than $75,000 are in this group, and they're more likely to resurrect their past spending patterns in the future.
  4. Apathetic Materialists tend to be under the age of 40, with most in their 20s, and fewer than 10 percent in the Decitica study admit to being very focused on value. They're the least changed in their spending habits and future intentions.

Tips for Marketing Success
How you'll reshape your marketing going forward will depend a lot on who your customers are. But one thing almost all consumers have in common is a strong focus on price. So make yours competitive and attractive, using high-demand products at smart prices to draw in customers who may purchase additional products and services.

Another important tip is to be visible when customers are ready to buy what you offer. Search engine marketing is vital to increasing sales from new customers who know what they want to buy and are looking for the best place to buy it. Business owners are increasingly relying on paid search advertising as a primary acquisition tool since it ensures you'll turn up at or near the top of search results, and search engine advertising can be just as effective for local businesses as for national ones.

As you develop your new marketing programs, consider the current age and gender divides and where your customers fit in. Both men and women 40 years and older are the most confident they can resist the temptation to spend now and worry later, the Decitica study shows. That holds true for consumers over 40 at all income levels. Women, who make the majority of all household purchases, have been greatly affected by their recession experiences, particularly those with less than $50,000 annual income.

No matter your target audience, whether male or female and across almost every income level, one thing is clear--the recession has created a new normal for American consumers, and there's no turning back the clock.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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