Saturday, November 22, 2008

3 Winners with the Coming Stimulus Package

I was in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan this week, and everywhere I went, the economy was a main topic of conversation. With a fiscal stimulus looking likely, I got to thinking about the implications for brand positioning and potential winners. Here are my top 3 picks for the industries that will gain renewed respect from the new administration’s policies, and the brand with the best opportunity to capitalize on each.

1. Manual work and the people who do it will be seen as our unsung heroes

I believe that the new administration’s plans to put people to work on a large scale will include public works projects – fixing our crumbling bridges, highways and power grid, and building new ones. Lots of the folks out of work are in construction and building trades, and in manufacturing (automotive and otherwise). They have the required skills, and are among the people David Brooks referred to in a Nov 17 article in the NYTimes about “the formerly middle class.” They work with their hands and are used to physical work indoors and out.

The brand best positioned to capitalize on putting these people back to work: Carhartt, the preferred provider of outerwear for people who need durable protection so they can work in dirty, dangerous conditions.

2. Federal civil service will become respectable again

In addition to rejecting the anti-intellectualism of the Republican campaign, on Nov. 4, voters said loud and clearly that they need more and better service from their Federal government. From energy policy to health care policy to international policy – the vote affirmed our need for capable and committed people to work in the Federal government. The Obama transition team has already demonstrated its intent to recruit the best and the brightest (back) to Washington, D.C. Now, it’s corporate America (and the financial services and insurance industries, in particular) that is seen as the source of waste, fraud and abuse of our tax dollars, and the Federal civil servants are there to rectify the situation.

The brand winner here: it’s hard to say – I think it could be the Office of Personnel Management which will be tasked with filling the dangerously depleted and demoralized ranks of the Federal civil service.

3. Community service will become more a part of our lives and career paths

A new generation is entering the workforce that views community service as a normal career (or life?) stage. According to the Cone 2006 Millennial Cause Study, "61% of millennials, (defined as those born between 1979 – 2001), feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world." Whether they start out as teachers, do community service after hours, or expect to take a sabbatical in order to do it, more private sector workers are seeking opportunities to “give back.”
Brand winners: Teach for America has gotten a lot of press for its novel approach to enabling Millennials to give back, and may be the big winner here.

This renewed interest in community service may also be an opportunity to renivent a tired brand like The United Way – which could allow a more varied experience to more potential do-gooders than Teach for America can. Not through the athletes who currently promote it, but through regular, inspired individuals – Millennials, boomers, and others – participating in innovative programs serving diverse populations and causes.


As I look at the list, it seems like an indictment of the Reagan Revolution. Finally! I began my career as a macroeconomist in the Carter Administration, and I served during the first year of the Reagan administration. When Ronald Reagan came to office, it was a depressing time to be a Federal government employee – our motives for choosing Federal employment were viewed suspiciously, and naively aspiring to “do good” was not enough. With a few exceptions, it's been that way ever since.

Happily, that was then and this is now.

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