>> Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re in Carefree, Arizona – which is a pretty good place to be to bring in a New Year (or just about any other day). It’s also where we were 10 years ago, and as this first decade of the third millennium comes to a close it seemed like a good time to reflect on the next ten years from the standpoint of smart brands.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, my wife Teresa and I watched as 2000 rang in, first in Sydney, then Tokyo (our former home), then Shanghai – and gradually headed westward towards the Arizona desert. A couple of weeks later a USA Today survey would find that 69% of Americans agreed that ‘the country was headed in the right direction’. The Dow closed that day at 11,497 and unemployment was at 3.7%.

Today the percentage of Americans agreeing that we’re ‘headed in the right direction’ stands at 25%. The Dow will probably close today around 10,400 and the latest unemployment figure stands at 9.4%.

Much has been written in the past few days about the ‘lost decade’, one which we seemingly didn’t advance our lives much from where we stood 10 years ago – and with two wars going on and having weathered two recessions, the question being asked is whether we made any real progress at all.

Of course we have. But life moves along at its own version of Moore’s Law – the speed of the demands on us and the challenges we all face seem to double every 18 months. And while there have been many achievements that have put the world closer together during the last ten years (we do live in a Facebook/Twitter world, at least for the moment), we have also taken our fair share of bad news, so it’s no wonder everyone feels a bit more stressed today.

But in this convergence of events also exists opportunity – the writing on the wall may be that in this environment, the smart money is on brands and businesses that people trust to make their lives easier. Brands that listen to consumers, and make the changes to help their customers as their lives change. This may mean providing better value, making delivery more convenient or creating healthier options. But definitely brands that hear what their consumers need and are nimble and smart enough to adjust their products and offerings.

Carefree may almost be an oxymoronic name for a place to ring in the New Year – these days, each successive new year seems to be anything but carefree. However, as the new decade gives us the opportunity to start fresh, perhaps carefree is an appropriate phrase for the kind of relationship consumers would like to have with brands they can build trust with in the coming years.

Here’s to a new year filled with wellness on all fronts.



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