business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Twenty-plus years ago, I recall a very strange political moment. As the film “The Right Stuff” came to theaters, there were those convinced its portrayal of the early American space program would propel heroic astronaut-turned-Senator John Glenn into the White House. Do you remember President Glenn?

It’s worth thinking about as we consider the moment surrounding the release “Julie & Julia,” starring of Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Yes, it’s a celebration of cooking and food that should give all of us pause and might get some folks back into the kitchen. But as “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe suggested yesterday, let’s not get crazy. Streep has made countless terrific movies and unless you credit her for the rising divorce rate after “Kramer vs. Kramer,” it’s hard to see how a film changes the world.

Then again, maybe we should pause and think about it this time. It’s not the movie, but the timing that should interest us. For nearly a year now, the US (and most of the globe) has been immersed in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. For a year now we’ve heard and read countless reports about how the crisis is altering consumer behavior, building frugality and leaving people looking for lifestyle changes.

Which means that for nearly a year now opportunity has been staring us in the face and asking us whether we are going to act. “Julie & Julia” is simply the latest reminder.

The reality is that Americans aren’t rushing back into their kitchens to battle the economic crisis. They talk about eating more meals at home, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest the move is minor and the larger move is toward economizing at home and at restaurants. (McDonald’s sales are up, for example.) But that again is the opportunity.

The reality is also that people’s habits do change in times of economic crisis and they can stay changed for years afterwards depending on how scarred they are by the experience. It’s hard to imagine that two years from now, Americans will be buying up homes as they recently did, hoping to flip them quickly into massive profits. Two years from now we have to hope banks and lending institutions won’t be finding creative (and ultimately destructive) ways to support those actions.

However, that’s not our business. Our business is selling food, so let’s start thinking about where we want to be when the economic crisis passes. Do we want to return to watching idly as sales and meals continue to drift away from home or do we want something bolder?

The economic crisis is a moment that (hopefully) won’t come along for a very long time. It’s a time for re-evaluation, but also reconnection. It’s a time to abandon the status quo and find the new path to success and customer satisfaction.

Ask yourself a hard question: what are you and your company doing differently today compared to last August? In the year since Lehman Bros. collapsed, the Dow Jones tanked and the world shifted, what are you doing differently? What are you doing with shoppers, associates, trading partners and communities? How have you used this moment to alter the future?

If you haven’t done any of that, consider your competitors who have. Consider the brilliance of Walmart’s strategy to demonstrate customer care through the economic crisis. Consider McDonalds new upscale offerings in coffee and burgers and think about how that company is seizing market share by redefining value. And while those are just two examples, both pack an enormous punch.

And then ask, what have you done, how have you changed and how have you built the new relationship. The moment is here, but the moment may soon be ending. The time to act is now.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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