What consumers now want from brands and what to do about it

Image: Verloeg

Few CEOs, CMOs or business executives are in any doubt that the business marketplace is being transformed by the impact of social media. Perhaps the most consequential change is a shift in the expectations of consumers. As an extension of the tools they now possess themselves, they are looking for different things from the brands they support through their loyalty, word-of-mouth advertising, and purchases. Here’s why:

1. AN END TO MEDIA MONOPOLIES:  For decades, media companies have largely controlled the tools through which consumers were told what to buy, wear or think. Now consumers possess the same ability to produce, distribute and curate content and distribute it to their peers in real time across social media platforms. As a result, consumers now effectively co-author the stories brands tell, in which case, they seek engagement from their brands. Engagement takes the form of conversations in which brands not only listen to consumer requests, but consistently demonstrate a commitment to the core values aligned with their consumers. To ignore this compromises your business on two fronts. Not only do you lose the upside of consumer engagement, but you fail to moderate or temper the consequences of any negative reviews, comments or conversations.

2. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF AWARENESS: As a function of the easy access to information provided by the internet, and the ease with which it can be shared thanks to social media, consumers are now better informed as to the behavior of brands and the multiple global crises we face. They are also aware that the traditional custodians of social change (government and philanthropy) are limited in what they can do.  Governments are burdened by historic debt while philanthropies are hamstrung by insufficient resources. As such, consumers are looking to the private sector and the brands they support to play a greater role in social change. In order to do so in a way that also benefits a company’s bottom line, brands must define who they are and what they stand for and do outreach on that basis.

3. COLLABORATION OVER COMPETITION: Just as consumers expect their brands to play a bigger role in social transformation, they also expect brands to work together to that effect. We now see numerous examples of brands working together to address issues such as environmental degradations, climate control, pollution, poverty and disease. As such, the winner takes all mindset that informs everything from executive remuneration to business strategy to customer service must be reframed in terms of creativity, cooperation and collaboration as well as competition.

4. SCALE VERSUS PERSONALIZATION: Brands are faced with the daily challenge of massively scaling their outreach in order to build personal relationships. While this may seem like a contradiction in terms, it becomes much more possible when brands shift from push to pull dynamics in their marketing. Once a brand has defined who it is, and does outreach on the basis of those core values, the consumers can choose for themselves which brand demonstrates similar values to their own so they can support it through the purchase of their products.  This is only going to become more important as the nature of search changes as we witness the emergence of a personalized web. The only way for brands to resonate with consumers within the confines of a web that is customized to their interests, activities and values is to be clearly defined and aligned themselves. As such, the most effective way for brands to scale and still engage on a personal level with consumers is to be clearly defined around their value propositions and allow consumers to self select the brands they want to support.

There is no doubt that each one of these represents a massive shift in thinking and behavior from the supply chain to C-suite through to customer service. I wrote We First as a tool that brands can use to negotiate this unfamiliar terrain and accelerate the transition they must make if they hope to survive and benefit in the social business marketplace. It lays out the business case for how and why brands must engage in the social business marketplace, and provides step-by-step plans for them to do so.  I invite you to order your copy now. I know it can add enormous value to your business and brand community.