The changing psychology of budget brands

There has been a wave of articles following the consumer trend towards budget brands.  In hard financial times this is hardly surprising, but what I do find interesting is the change in perceptions.  Shopping for budget brands and frequenting value outlets such as Poundland or Aldi is no longer seen as downmarket, but as ‘canny shopping’.

What this underlines for me is the unpredictability of customer psychology and the impotence of brand stewards.  I have long emphasised that brands are not ‘owned’ by companies, but by the public at large – no amount of marketing communications on behalf of brands can change public perceptions when they are not ready to change. This is not about pricing or value for money – it is about brand values.  Sure, we all need to stretch the pennies at this time – but it is the consumer convincing themselves that subtly they are not compromising their values by budget shopping.

It is also fascinating how this becomes a mass perception – almost a conspiracy of minds. I see parallels with psycho-economics. Budget brands have always represented good value: nothing has changed – but maybe in better financial times Maslow’s hierarchy of needs kicks in and for the affluent it is more important to be seen with a Waitrose carrier than save a few pence.

Marketers, researchers and psycholgists have long known that the connection between perception, intent and actual behaviour is a frustrating one.  As we see in the behaviour of stockmarkets, people are fickle, unpredictable and sometimes perverse. But in this case at least, maybe sanity has been freed by perception, economic reality and group dynamics.  Now I’ll just scatter my Lidl carriers ostentatiously on the back seat of the Porsche…


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