The Great Combined Effort

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Scott WebbOver the last few years, Doug Harrison has been surveying the buying habits and attitudes of the wealthiest 10 percent of American households, periodically presenting his findings to APSP gatherings. Maybe you’ve seen one of these. We’ve given them as much coverage as we can.

The people he surveys have the bulk of the discretionary spending money in the U.S. — not all of it, but most of it. They are our prime customers. You can interpret his findings a lot of different ways. Here’s mine: We are in danger of losing them.

Their awareness of our products is fuzzy — like a TV channel that’s not coming in too well. And what do you do when Channel 7 isn’t coming in too good? You try Channel 8.

Because there are a lot of channels on cable now.

Elsewhere in the economy — people with incomes in, say, the 50th to 90th percentile, cannot be counted on the way we used to. The growth in that sector which bouyed our industry ever higher for so many years peaked in the middle of the last decade. Many of us have been waiting for that group to come back, hoping for a return to that old “normal.” I don’t think we can wait and hope for it much longer. I think we’re going have to go hunt it down and take it back for ourselves.

To reiterate, our most likely customers, the top ten percent, don’t know us and the middle class has a nervous condition that may be permanent. They are going to need lots of reassurance.

Which brings me to my point: The time has come for the Great Combined Effort, that much discussed industry movement where we all pony up our fair share to fund a large scale, sustained national marketing campaign to make our case to our customers on our own terms.

This has been talked about for decades — talked and talked and talked about, almost as if enough talk could get it done. We point emphatically at the examples of other industries — the boaters, the RV people, the dairy farmers — where the money and the will have been found, and ask what makes them different? And we know it’s nothing. They are men and women such as ourselves, no different from us except for this one example of boldness and backbone, which allowed them to drop their competitor shields long enough to link arms for the good of all.

These are qualities that we know lie within ourselves.

And yet here we sit, still lacking the courage to do this work. Still hunkering down and trying to get by for another week or another year in a parsimonious market which — squeeze as hard as we may — never gushes juice. It drips and trickles, and we carefully sip.

Scott Webb

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