Citibank recently employed the services of Hart Research Associates to gauge consumers’ expectations for the U.S. economy. Citi’s Michelle Peluso summed up the findings this way: "These survey results bring into sharp relief the degree to which the confidence of even the most optimistic consumers has been shaken by a tumultuous summer ... ”

This was reported in a research brief titled “Through a Glass, Darkly.”

Note: This survey was conducted during recent stock market volatility. Regardless, results are quite startling.

  • 41% of respondents expect their local economic conditions to improve over the next 12 months (a decline of 10 points since April and 22 points since January 2011).

  • 77% rate the economy fair or poor; 23% good or excellent.

  • 72% of consumers still think we haven’t reached the bottom of the economic downturn yet (13% higher than January 2011 surveys).

  • 85% of respondents view employment opportunities as fair or poor in their area; only 13% said they were good or excellent.

  • 44% of Americans think they’re less secure financially than they were at the start of the 2008 economic meltdown.

These numbers are significant. Probing into the causes of the malaise divulged important insights:

  • 41% are worried about basic living costs; food and gasoline prices head up the list.

  • 28% are worried about the cost of health care.

  • 21% are worried about the health of their retirement accounts.

In response, consumers aren’t just cutting back on spending; they’re slashing spending. They’re saving a lot more, spending a lot less.

  • 72% reported they use coupons from multiple sources.

  • 62% have cut back on premium products, choosing less expensive options.

  • 44% are purchasing food in bulk.

  • 36% are taking advantage of online deals.

Now, knowing how consumers feel, what do you as a marketer have to do to get them to spend these days? What do you think works best?

  • Coupons online and in print

  • More social media engagement

  • Groupon deals

  • Advertising lower prices and making statements like “We Beat All Competitors’ Pricing”

  • Upping the ante on service

  • Surprising customers with an unusual product or service they can’t find everywhere else

  • A combination of tactics

What’s it going to take now to engage consumers and get them to part with some of their cash---while making them feel good about it?

I’d love to get opinions from marketers and consumers at large ...

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni