The –ology of Consumers in Canada.

Ever since TAXI’s ECD Jason McCann asserted that on the spectrum of evolution, the agency is ahead of the client, but the consumer is still ahead of the agency, I’ve wanted to know more about the Canadian consumer. Intuitively, I agree with Jason’s assertion. Anywhere in the world, actually, not only in Canada. But since one insight leads to more questions, I continued to wonder, “Where does the Canadian consumer stand?”

On one hand, anyone can answer that question, as we are all consumers (excluding myself and any non-Canadians, since we’re focusing on Canada right now). On the other, it is a dangerous trap to project one’s own experience and assumptions on the masses.

As Rethink Creative Director Dré Labre told me, without research and development agencies will never stay ahead of the innovators producing brilliance in the basement in their free time.

One of Canada’s top award-winning creatives, Ian MacKellar (formerly of BBDO, now leading the squad as Senior Vice President and Creative Director at Bensimon Byrne) echoed Dre’s sentiment. Doing adequate research on your consumer ensures that you walk into your client pitch, presentation or meeting prepared with the data (not the speculation) to answer “why?”

Bensimon Byrne produces a quarterly report called “The Consumerology Report,” which surveys 1,500 Canadians (both English and French-speaking). The purpose of the report is “to understand consumer financials situation, post-recession attitudes and behaviours and consumers economic outlook.”

The Report segments its respondents into three groups, Runners (which comprise 28%), Walkers (comprising 47%) and Spectators (25%). The distinctions are not by income, but rather by their shopping behaviour and brand loyalty.

Runners are ambitious in their life goals and desire material success and envy from their peers. They are not any wealthier than Walkers or Spectators, but purchase brand names to demonstrate outward materialism.

Walkers have no material aspirations. They focus on their inner circle, financial self-sufficiency, health and happiness. Value, price and guarantee are the keys to a Walker’s loyalty.

Spectators also focus on their inner circle and enjoying life, but are the least likely to be bound by tradition. They don’t reject materialism as Walkers do, but they are prone to look for a bargain.

The overall results of the Report show optimism on the part of Canadian consumers, who view their economy to be in the midst of a growth stage. More than half of Canadian consumers are doing better post-recession, and 80% will be doing better than today one year from now. All three of the Consumerology Report’s segments have rebounded similarly from the recession, although Runners are more likely to say they are doing better.

Housing values have gone up and consumers are confident in the value of their homes, as they are in their mortgages and investments.

Still, disposable income has decreased. Most Canadians are focused on reducing their overall debt and increasing spending only as it relates to savings/debt reduction, groceries and gas.

In the next year, Runners intend to maintain their spending levels, not only on essentials but the non-essentials as well. Walkers only intend to spend on the essentials mentioned above and Spectators intend to rein in spending across the board.

No category is recession proof. The biggest pressures that Canadian consumers are feeling are food, gas, taxes, and electricity, as well as healthcare, rent/mortgage and cable/satellite TV. For low-income consumers, the biggest concerns are food and prescription costs.

A third of Canadian consumers across all income levels use coupons. Flyers are the best source of coupons, but female and younger audiences are most likely to go online to source coupons. Older audiences are more likely to find coupons in direct mail. 27% of respondents use group discount/deal/coupon websites (such as Groupon or TeamBuy) and one-third of that group will check online at least daily for a new deal. 40% of those who do not use such sites are likely to use them in the future. Most people (75%) are not embarrassed to use discount/group-buying sites to get a deal.

Banks in Canada emerged from the recession with a positive public image among consumers, as compared to grocery stores, the media, business leaders and all levels of government. Banks were the only positively viewed institution out of those tested, though opinion level remained fairly constant before and after the recession.

Though discretionary spending may be constant at best (for Runners) and nearly non-existent at worst (for Spectators), the growth and optimism of Canadian consumers is a positive sign. Consumers will respond to brands that provide value and perceived investment in helping consumers watch their budgets and look to the future. It’s up to agencies to partner with and lead their clients to find solutions to the challenges their consumers are facing. From how to properly cook an egg, to how to properly tend to your lawn, to laying the foundation for a solid financial future, brands need to get there first to solve the problem.

To read the Bensimon Byrne Consumerology Report, please click here.

Canadian consumers, would you agree with this report? Do you feel optimistic about the future of the Canadian economy? What brands do you feel are most sensitive to your present economic reality and what brands help you plan for your future? 

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