Is Consumer Sentiment Improving (Or Not) For High-End Home Brands?

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Contrasting studies can be confusing, but your job is to remain focused.

 
Sometimes, I am dazed and confused by the variety of reports that come over the transom. In one month, I’ve seen a consumer sentiment study that was bullish, as well as another that was bearish. These contradictions can be confusing, especially to marketing directors trying to optimize their efforts for maximum success.
Here’s what I mean:
I follow the work of Pam Danziger and her firm, Unity Marketing, fairly closely. She has a very good handle on affluent consumers, and in fact, runs an ongoing proprietary survey called the Luxury Consumption Index (LCI). I’ve always found Unity’s reports to offer a pragmatic consumer point-of-view. In Unity’s latest survey of affluent consumer confidence, the LCI took a 12-point dive to 46 points, the lowest level since the start of the Great Recession. “Affluent consumers are sitting on the sidelines instead of getting in ‘on the action,’” said Tom Bodenberg, Unity’s economist.
Now compare and contrast those survey results with a study from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan, where consumer sentiment is the “highest in seven years.” Granted, the Reuters survey uses a national sample of all consumers, not just the affluent, but the differences are stark. “Consumers have been gradually regaining their economic footing in the past several months, with confidence rising to the highest level since the start of the Great Recession,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the survey.
So what does this mean for a marketer of high-end brands?
There is a lot of research out there, and like most any category, there’s a good chance that you can find studies, opinions, and insights with dramatically different points of view. And of course, as illustrated above, sometimes consumer sentiment is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
While we can be enlightened and informed by some of these “macro” studies, we really need to have a good handle on the “micro” with our own customer bases. Said another way, if your core customer is an affluent female antique buyer in the Northeast region of the U.S., then perhaps Bloomberg’s report on the impact of cheaper oil on the global sale of private jets is not relevant.
The burden is on you to sift through the noise and make your own determination. Affluent consumers are fluid and dynamic. They are digitally savvy and heavy consumers of media. By no means do they behave alike – and they have interests all across the spectrum. In addition, it’s really difficult to make blanket predictions that will affect every high-end category out there.
Your job is to know your customer well – and to ensure that your brand remains relevant and meaningful – regardless of what’s happening in the wider market.