Strength is in. Power is out.
If there was ever a time when the strong silent type was appreciated by consumers this is it. Where once a powerful, dominant business, full of authority was admired - today three factors have led consumers to reject the power persona in favor of businesses they perceive to be simply strong partners.
What's the difference between strength and power? Strength is capability and confidence; power implies the use of that strength. A "powerful" business is perceived to be controlling and exerting its will, a "strong" business one that inspires participation.
Why has this become so central to a consumer's willingness to connect with a brand or business?
1. Empowerment. Consumers are themselves increasingly powerful, and consequently less interested in following. The Internet has created pricing transparency, expanded their options and given them voice. Add to that a recession that's fueled unprecedented consumer courtship and the result is a highly confident consumer.
2. Shaken Trust. After leadership meltdowns in every arena of life, many consumers were left thinking, "The big guy doesn't know any more than I do, why should I believe them? And geez, why would I do what they want when they don't seem to have my best interest at heart." When it comes to brand relationships, power only works when there is trust. Today's consumer is more self-reliant out of necessity.
3. Resentment. Many consumers are nursing their own vulnerability, hurt and anger by rooting for "Davids" over "Goliaths." They see themselves in the little guy and consequently it's a brand persona that resonates. They also wouldn't mind seeing a few powerhouses get their come-uppance, as much for validation of their strength as for revenge.
What about those big (powerful) companies that consumers continue to love? How do we make sense of the popularity of Proctor & Gamble for example? They've used social media, pricing strategies and marketing communications that create a persona of caring and connection that feels intimate and personal. They project strength - but never in an authoritarian way. They're helpers. Where a consumer perceives a business to be on the strength/power continuum is more linked to image than reality.
There is one circumstance where power is acceptable - when it's exerted on behalf of the consumer. For example, while many manufacturers may think of Wal-Mart as something akin to a bully, consumers think of Wal-Mart more like Robin Hood - taking from corporations and giving the benefits to them.
It's a subtle point, for sure, and there are dozens of other factors that determine how consumers feel about brands and products - but like all consumer behavior it offers insight into the minds of Americans.
Out: I know the way, follow me.
In: You know the way, I'll help you get there.