Today’s consumers vote their mind
with politics, society and brands
by Victoria Sakal
In a world of proliferating technologies, platforms, automated solutions, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and machine learning, today’s brands risk drowning out the voice of the human—the ultimate consumer. If the one thing companies cannot lose if they want to stay economically relevant is consumers, then the one thing brands cannot lose sight of is the voice of those consumers.
Marketing continues to evolve at an exponential pace: new solutions are constantly emerging as technologies develop, brands’ responsibilities are expanding as consumers demand a point of view on today’s biggest cultural and societal issues, and distinct generations are challenging marketers to meet different needs and expectations for engagement. Yet consumers are feeling the pressure of an evolved role too. The increasingly wide range of channels and product choices available means today’s consumers not only have to more adeptly and efficiently navigate a complex and cluttered environment, but also have an opportunity to “vote with their wallets.” Their consumption choices translate to supporting those brands and offers that best meet their needs, align with their points of view on broader issues, and conduct business in a fair, respectable manner.
In the last year alone, we’ve seen countless examples of populations around the world realizing their voice—and raising it on issues that matter to them. From Brexit to the US presidential election and even humanitarian causes, people are harnessing the power of their voice to express new desires and expectations of the institutions influencing society, and brands are no exception. A portion of consumers will always remain motivated by the more traditional factors (e.g. price), but the 2017 consumer is more discerning than ever on more complex measures.
Because this phenomenon is happening across categories and geographies, brands have no choice but to pay attention to this voice. As we’re already seeing in many leading companies, this imperative is transforming the role of internal marketing teams and external partners, agencies included. From a business perspective, ROI and effectiveness of decisions stand to benefit significantly from a greater sense of who the customer is, where they spend their time, what they need (or don’t need!) and how they want to be engaged and communicated with. From a relevance perspective, this information informs business strategy as companies orient around meeting an actual need. And—perhaps most importantly given the dialogues we’ve seen in the last year alone—from a cultural perspective, this insight can guide bringing purpose to life. Understanding the causes consumers care about and the concerns complicating their everyday lives equips brands to take a stand and add value where it matters—socially, culturally, and even politically.
Since its onset, “big data” has offered the potential to leverage the myriad sources of information available to not only grasp a better understanding of consumers, but also to better deliver on their needs. From the Internet of Things to artificial intelligence and machine learning, powerful technologies are now eclipsing traditional sources of customer insight. However, with big data and emerging smart technologies transforming the insight we have on consumers comes an interesting dynamic. While many consumers find their voice through activism, communicating directly with brands digitally, or voting via wallets, other voices are not expressed quite so loudly. This makes these novel solutions and the indirect information they collect especially integral to insights functions.
Yet just as this new universe of data is welcomed by practitioners, consumers are fully aware of the information they’re sharing about themselves and consequently have adapted heightened expectations of immediacy and personalization. And, although still in the early stages of delivering all-encompassing information, the immense potential of these technologies to quantify every action an individual takes creates equally immense potential for misstep. Aside from (warranted) concerns around privacy, flawed execution of predictive behaviors or inaccurate attempts at personalization pose significant risk of permanently damaging customer relationships and destroying precious trust.
So, if the voice of the consumer is essential and today’s technologies offer only part of the solution, how can brands be successful with truly understanding consumers? By knowing what to listen for and which parts of your business these voices are most likely to affect, you can equip your teams to listen closely—and your technologies to listen smartly—to make magic out of all the madness.
As emerging technologies become “smarter” and more seamless in the coming years, they will transform marketing and revolutionize the way brands engage with consumers. They are closing gaps in understanding and magnifying consumer data available. However, disputed research results, inaccurate polling, and ineffective advertising have demonstrated that the technologies available to today’s marketers are not a fault-proof solution to longstanding challenges. The risks that come with overzealous adoption of any new solution cannot be ignored.
A combination of art and science is essential: when it comes to consumers, more behavioral data is undeniably creating new opportunities for brands and businesses, but the ultimate success of all these solutions lies in their effectiveness with the actual consumer. Brands need to remain focused on the key insights within this sea of information to keep the end consumer and their experience in full view. Understanding the most pivotal parts of the brand-consumer relationship to the consumer not only contextualizes the “what” of this behavioral data with the “why”, but also reveals those “how” areas most sensitive to potential damage from awkward integration of new solutions.
Brand-building Action Points
1. Orient your offer
Whether directly related to your business’ offer or to the broader space you’re playing in, look for where the consumer need really lies. What pain points persist today? How is your offer distinctly meeting a stated need? How are others—both within your category and cross-category—pushing the thinking on delivering meaningful products or services to meet these needs?
2. Evaluate the experience
Assess the audience’s reaction to the consumer experience you deliver—especially where formerly human interactions have been replaced with tech-forward alternatives—to diagnose disconnects and opportunities for refinement. How can the decision journey and overall experience be simplified? Where are inconsistencies occurring? What can you learn from other players delivering seamless, well-received experiences?
3. Curate content
Pursue a genuine understanding of the consumer and follow ongoing conversations (cultural, social, etc.) to inform more meaningful communications that offer concrete benefits: entertainment, knowledge, or otherwise. How is your content adding value to consumers’ lives? Are your communications sales-focused or relationship-focused? What consumer need is your content meeting to help ensure that it’s not purely transactional, but adding to the conversation in a relevant, constructive way?
4. Listen for dissatisfaction
Consumers are savvy—they know what they want, and they are more willing than ever to exchange your brand for another better able to do the job. Listen for signs of dissatisfaction, opportunities for innovation, and even points of delight with other in- and cross-category players to ensure your offer is delivering on relevant needs.
5. Keeping it real
The utopian seamlessness and perfect personalization promised by these new solutions does not always translate to the real-life experience for end users. Consumers will surely be assessing your ability to balance the efficiency of new solutions with the authenticity of meaningful interactions and experiences.
6. Identify useful content
Content is king leader of the free market. Numerous channels for engagement, with both brands and users contributing, mean that consumers are inundated with content. For greater relevance, and relationships that are more than purely transactional, determine what content consumers consider useful. As opposed to blatantly pitching a product or prioritizing quantity over quality, offering truly effective content builds long-term brand affinity by delivering tangible value to the consumer, fostering two-way conversation and even a sense of personability and trust.
By remaining in touch with the human side of these increasingly savvy decision-makers, brands gain not only a much clearer sense of where to focus their efforts, but also more confidence in decisions, better execution and elevated marketing effectiveness.