Discretionary Spending

Is your business slowing right now? Are you struggling to keep old customers, and just barely keeping the hope of gaining new customers alive?

Well, duh. Who isn’t?

Walmart. Their sales are up, in a sea of down. How do they do it?

They’re cheap.

Okay, they’re cheap. I agree. But there’s something more, and you can aim for it, too: They’re selling the essentials.

What’s essential?

  • Basic food and clothing.
  • Transportation.
  • My income.
  • Shelter.
  • Health, well-being, love.

So where are you on that list? No matter your industry, you can find a place to belong. (Walmart is the lowest common denominator, but that’s not really a prize you want to win.)

What you need to do is to demonstrate how your product or service is, in fact, essential, to your clients. If you are seen as a “discretionary expense,” believe me, folks are going to exercise their discretion and skip it. Even my beloved daily jaunt to the bagel shop has been curtailed to once a week since gas prices began to throttle my well-worn red leather Liz Claiborne wallet.

You can’t be essential to everyone. But you can be essential to your Ideal Customer. Let’s add one more essential.

  • A little cheer in a world of hurtin’.


“In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Charles Revson introduced opaque nail polish and created Revlon Inc.* Ever since, the cosmetics industry has been regarded as a good business even for bad times. Women, the theory went, could always be counted on to spend at least some of what little disposable income they had to look attractive and feel good about themselves.”**

I know, you aren’t selling makeup. Here’s how it works:

We’re all about basics now, right down to that bag lunch. Skip the bagel. Save gas. Get more work done. Bag lunch. Skip bagel. Do more.


That brown bag begins to gnaw at me, more work leaves me feeling like a drone, and then *boom*—I need a little splurge.

Oh, yeah. I need a darned smile!

It’s as essential as cutting back was only a moment before. If you can’t be the basics—and even if you can—be more. Beyond essential. Be the thing I can’t cut out of my budget. Be a little cheer in a world of hurtin’. Adjust your thinking about that Ideal Customer for now, to include folks who are having that *boom* moment. Position your business to appeal to them.

What does it mean for you?

Adjust your message to show that you’re not a discretionary expense, but an essential part of your customer’s work or home life. That you won’t just deliver, you’ll deliver smiles. Yes, I’m more serious than ever, when I say that to make money right now, you’re going to have to deliver joy.

So how can you be a little cheer in a world of hurtin’?

What do you go for when you can’t stand “the basics” for one more minute? More importantly to your Customer Experience—WHY is that little bit of cheer suddenly essential?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*For my well-traveled blog readers, experiencing a bit of déjà vu: Contrary to what Brian Clark wrote at Copyblogger a while back (probably quoting Clayton Makepeace?), the cosmetics industry was not born in the Great Depression. The industry weathered the storm better than others, and some companies were born then such as Revlon, but the industry was already an international phenomenon, and had already made both Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden multimillionaires long before the start of the Depression. Little luxuries rock.

**“Shake-Out in the Skin Game,” Time Magazine, Oct. 1982. The point of the Time article was actually that the old saw was being proved wrong at that time (1982), as women did cut back on everyday cosmetics purchases. Uh oh….

Our job is to be beyond those everyday purchases that experience cutbacks—to be essential, we’ll need to be extraordinary.