As part of BzzAgent (email me  if you want an invitation), I get to review some products and share them with my friends. In the past, and currently, I’ve done campaigns for products like Nutella and this time I was sent an advanced uncorrected copy of Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer by Michael J. Silverstein (with John Butman) to be published sometime in May 2006. The book is about how, as middle class working consumers, we trade up for some items and trade down for others and what we trade up or down depends on a variety of factors including our personal preferences, current financial situation, and future goals. Essentially we trade down for generic commodity type goods and trade up for luxury items.
The book is geared towards people on the other side of the equation, the companies who are doing the selling, in that it’s educating them on this shift from strength residing in the middle of the value stream and those existing at either pole.
Let me give you a great example of a company that’s experiencing weakness because of it’s position in the middle – Kraft and its cheese brand. While the overall cheese market has increased, Kraft’s market share has been declining. The reason they cite is because those consumers looking to purchase regular ole cheese can buy Safeway’s generic Lucerne brand at 60% off Kraft’s name brand and those consumers looking to buy exotic cheese often go for the much more expensive cheese in the specialty case. Kraft’s strategy was to lower costs, maintain market share, and thus the profits would increase. Apparently, Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese doesn’t actually have real cheese, it has a bunch of products that mix together to be cheesy; a product of lowering expenses.
The book does a good job of explaining the movement at the poles through the use of real life stories from actual people. There’s one about a family that moved from a larger house in a weaker school district and less affluent neighborhood to a smaller house, more expensive, in a better school district and more affluent neighborhood. They traded up at the high end, with regard to their house, and in return they had to trade down on a lot of other things. It’s the decision of how to spend the limited funds and the ability to rationalize those decisions that forces folks to trade down for simple commodities and trade up for the luxuries they want.
The book resonated with me, and I believe most consumers these days, because it was entirely on target and painted me perfectly. I buy in bulk at Costco to take advantage of quantity discounts and I clip coupons, not because I want to have a fat bank account but because I want to go on vacations each year and save for my retirement (which I hope to be one long vacation!). The author of this book, Michael Silverstein, also wrote Trading Up: The New American Luxury  with Neil Fiske & John Butman, which I’m going to try to get at the library sometime because that may be like Treasure Hunt but more focused towards the consumer side.