Loyalty, CRM keys to weathering recession

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When I received my stimulus check last year, I — like most people — split it between the bank and bills. When the next stimulus comes through in paychecks starting April 1, part of it will still be headed to the bank, but because it will come incrementally, instead of as a lump sum, I'll use some for incidental purchases or to save for larger ones.

And I am not alone. According to a new American Pulse survey by BIGresearch, nearly 26% of Americans say they will save their extra cash, while smaller num­bers (in the single digits) say they also plan to make purchases. With all its other ramifications, the recession has brought about a new era of consumer restraint. This week's Gloves Off questions whether consumers' new thriftiness is here to stay or will rebound once the reces­sion has lifted. Retailers, who saw record price-slashing this past holiday season, understandably are already skittish about spring.

Clearly, there has been a shift away from premium brands and retailers, as the anomaly of rising sales at Wal-Mart demonstrates. Many believe thriftiness has taken root in a good number of people for the foreseeable future, and for that reason, companies and marketers must not only look at ways to rebuild consumer confi­dence but to offer value for their money. For marketers faced with making the most out of dwindling budgets, the challenge can provoke a radical rethinking.

The best advice for marketing in a recession: Work it.

As reported in our main cover story, some market­ers have responded to this challenge by providing clients with solutions on dealing with the recession. For example, Ogilvy North America has launched a dedicated recession marketing practice. Chantal Todé reports that Ogilvy's effort is built on helping clients maximize the value and performance of their mar­keting budgets through customized services, which include mining greater value from databases and boosting loyalty programs, social media and e-mail. Some companies, as well, have taken on the recession head-on. This week's Brand New highlights Jamba Juice's own stimulus plan, in which it promotes its new oatmeal product through a coyly labeled coupon. Another example is JetBlue's Promise Program — if you lose your job, the airline will fully refund the fare on any tickets that you paid for and booked between February 1 and June 1.

This follows on the heels of a Hyundai campaign announced earlier this year, which allows consumers to return any new Hyundai leased or financed in 2009 if the owner loses his job within the first year. Last month, the Hyundai expanded its assurance program to provide a one-time, 90-day payment relief benefit in the event of a layoff or physical disability.

The emphasis from all of these efforts is that boosting CRM efforts to help, retain or attract customers may help reboot consumer confidence.

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