Black swans and purple weather

The country which gave us the basis for the concept of a "black swan event" has now provided further proof of the perils of assuming that the past sets the parameters of the future - weather so hot that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology had to add a new colour to its temperature bar. As the country baked in its hottest overall average of 42°C, readings peaked at 52°C, requiring the addition of purple at the top end of forecasters' temperature gauges.

Changes to the upper (and lower) limits of the weather are not restricted to the Southern hemisphere. In the UK, record rain levels have redrawn the map of areas at risk from flooding. Climate change is altering the way all of us think about not just the world, but all the tools we use to understand it.

So what does this mean for marketers?

If you are a marketer looking at customer data and building models to forecast behaviour, it's time to look at where your category bands start and finish. A financial services provider offering property insurance will already have looked carefully at its maps in order to adjust premiums to reflect altered risk profiles. Lenders have closed down their books in the wake of greater uncertainty of future income among their customers and the higher possibility of default.

Behaviour is changing across the social spectrum. After decades where the main concern was just how far a brand could extend its relationship with a customer and how high the top segment's spending might go, it is now vital to consider what the baseline might be for any and all customers.

Recession-shifted spending

Look at the increased market share of Aldi and Lidl in the supermarket segment compared to the struggles of Morrison's and Tesco. What used to be the preserve of lower-income families have become more regular haunts for the "squeezed middle". Some forecasters now place £50,000 a year as the next pinch point for household incomes - at nearly double the national average, that is a major indication of how far the recession has shifted spending patterns.

Marketers in every sector need to consider the affordability of their product or service and where it might fit into an individual or household's buying cycle. What used to be a desirable, mainstream brand may now look to many of its prospects more like an aspirational luxury. As energy, food and travel absorb more available income, despite low interest rates and steady paying-down of debt, more customers are having to think twice about what they might used to have bought on impulse.

Strain on your relationship

Keeping a relationship in these straitened times is not easy. A number of strategies can help - offering stripped down or entry-level products and services, for example, that still offer some of the brand sizzle. Even mighty Apple has had to introduce a significantly lower-priced version of the iPad and sales of its iPhone will soon come under even greater pressure from sub-£100 smartphones.

Consumers used to buy on emotion - a shortage of cash brings out the rational in everybody. That changes what marketing needs to do and how data can predict behaviour, just as extreme weather has changed what we can expect to happen to the environment. It should make it easier - provided you understand the changed parameters.

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