By Julie Levine
SVP, Head of Channel Planning and Digital
Brands have evolved: The fading formula of “a product + a jingle + inescapable advertising” has morphed into a complex system of multichannel engagements that puts control of communications, and many times advertising, in the hands of consumers. What brands think of themselves is no longer enough.
Worse, it can work against them.
Consumers are squarely in charge of who and what they allow into their orbit. There’s a reason there’s been so much chatter about Facebook, Instagram, and even Google when it comes to politics and our evolving social structure in the US and worldwide. Content personalization increases the perceived effectiveness of these platforms: They learn individuals’ preferences and prioritize content to match. This creates echo-chambers that feel safe and convince people that their view of the world is the right one, shared and believed by the majority—compartmentalization and justification become easy.
Consumers call the shots
Whole brands that understand their red thread know that to truly connect, they must look to consumers to tell them what they’re interested in. They must understand their consumers’ curated preferences in order to build communication maps and journeys.
A brand’s communication map—or rather— its consumers’ communication map, is a system of comms across all channels where and when consumers are most likely to engage. A map may conjure thoughts of plots on a graph or even a traditional consumer journey, spinning a narrative about a “day in the life” of a brand’s target audience.
For communication maps to be most effective, the space between plotted moments is equally important. In other words, connecting these engagements to consumer behaviors, channel/platform/tool engagement opportunities, and to each other in meaningful ways is of utmost importance. Gone are the days of “setting and spraying” a creative idea across channels as siloed actions.
Modern consumers expect brands to integrate all communications in ways that match the consumers’ natural actions. This requires two essential components: A deep understanding of your consumers’ natural interactions and expectations cross-channel and cross-platform, as well as when you’re invited to participate passively, actively, and when to stay out of their way.
Adapt to post-pandemic behaviors
This is even more important now given the impact of COVID-19 on the marketplace. In our latest POV, An open brief to invent your future now, we focus on how brands’ roles change while people are restricted to home and social distancing. Brands realize the benefits of remote and digital communications and services they never before would have considered. For the indefinite future, many consumers are questioning how and when they’ll spend, save, or even make money in new ways, as well as how they’ll remote work, educate and entertain children, and stay healthy, among other unknowns. Focus on your brand’s purpose to determine when and what is the right way to communicate via digital channel engagements. This is key to building and maintaining brand equity through authenticity. And that genuineness, rather than promotional messages, builds trusted brand preference.
Ads often feel like intrusions in spaces that feel personal in today’s always-on, 100% customizable, prioritized-for-you environment. The modern consumer personalizes her computer’s, phone’s, and watch’s functions, aesthetics, sounds, and haptics. Streaming entertainment prioritizes and sorts content for individual preferences. For brands to participate effectively, they must study their key audiences' emotional and psychological relationship to content and engagement calls-to-action, and then interpret how their brands can authentically participate.
It’s math, not magic
Think Target: It combines behavioral, emotional, and psychographic details of each guest to personalize and connect her in-store and digital experiences. Her shopping behaviors, platform and channel use, and brand preferences tell Target how to communicate with her and navigate her through decision making, ultimately increasing basketsize and loyalty. It combines the ease of using their proprietary debit and credit cards (tied to a goodwill, localized, give-back-to-schools campaign and 5% instant savings for all guests) to natural digital and in-store behaviors, offering consumers a simple interface with instant savings.
It’s not a magic formula. Instead, Target is relying on the fundamental philosophy that humans will trade items of perceived value (their habits, patterns, and purchase behavior) as long as they receive something of equal or greater perceived value (savings, speed). All the words in red (above image) are Target-owned places, products, or services intended to build loyalty by gathering consumers’ habits, patterns, and purchase behaviors to continually improve personalized shopping experiences. Customers feel a sense of connection with Target—Not as a store, but as a friend who can make their life better.
Connecting each place, product, service, and communication is critical. While they may be managed by separate internal departments, a brand’s advertising, promotions, digital tools and communications, as well as online and in-store shopping must feel like one continuous experience to the user. Having a collective UX, UI, experience design, and communications practice is imperative. The hub-and-spoke model of advertising and websites is rarely necessary anymore.
Consumers are leading the charge, expecting brands to understand how to distribute content and ideas to attract them and invite their participation and involvement.
Jun 22, 2020
COVID-19, Gen Z, Millennial, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Scratch, Whole Brand
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