Troubled shoppers need reassuring product lines from brands. And perhaps a free bunch of flowers, says Bryan Urbick

Consumers are less bold than they used to be. Two years ago our research mainly focused on a shopper who pretty much dictated which hoops brands needed to leap through to be noticed. These consumers were confident and bold.

In the space of 24 months, the shopper mindset has shifted drastically. The world's troubled economy is a primary driver of the shift. As a result, we are seeing the emergence of a new behaviour consumers are cocooning themselves against real or perceived future hardships as best they can. The cocooned consumer is looking to brands that resonate with them, that offer emotional nurturing and seem genuine.

Brands with lengthy heritage can offer the type of reassurance these customers seek. It is about reconnecting with what is loved (possibly long-forgotten foods, or comforting food combinations). In fact, exploration of 'retro' can be an excellent way of talking to the cocooned.

Bringing back products and ideas even communication from past generations offers emotional reassurance. Familiarity and comfort are very much the operative words when addressing these shoppers' needs and these are probably not the best times for mega-innovation. Neither does the old "sell and take" mentality apply. Nowadays emphasis should be on care and empathy and even donation (showing care through giving to causes to those in even greater need).

There are already examples cropping up. Interflora has launched a social media campaign in the UK that aims to brighten the lives of Twitter users it feels need cheering up. By monitoring Twitter it picks out random people it feels need some 'love' and sends them a surprise bouquet of flowers. Likewise, Dutch airline KLM employed a Surprise Team to give passengers tailored, unexpected gifts. The team went online to find out background information about a passenger and would decide on a suitable gift to give them before they flew.

Brands that reach out in a genuine way to customers are likely to find a more permanent place in people's hearts and more frequently in their shopping baskets.

Bryan Urbick is CEO & president of the Consumer Knowledge Centre.