The age of information is upon us, and it brings with itself just as many challenges as it does opportunities. While earlier brands faced a lack of competitive insights and lack of usable data, the brands and consumers of today are flooded with information and insights.
Let’s talk about Shrishti, a 30-something female executive living and working in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Shrishti lives in her 2-bedroom apartment in an upscale locality in Mumbai’s Goregaon, painted with lead-free paint which she learnt about from AP Homes. She uses furniture she ordered from Urban Ladder. She starts her typical morning with the healthy diet cereal from Kelloggs, and tracks her physical activity on her Fitbit. She then checks an email inbox, overflowing with promotional e-mails from Amazon and the like, and then turns to some basic Instagram and Facebook scrolling, being inundated with commercial content on both. She likes to use cruelty-free make-up from brands like The Body Shop, which she saw some Instagram influencer use.
A large part of Shrishti’s life now revolves around the Internet, and many of her decisions are based on information she gathers from it. She has a lot of information at her fingertips every second, and she uses this to take decisions that align with her values: Shrishti is a millennial and she likes to believe that she is hard-working and ambitious, but at the same time, she wants to give back to the planet as well.
Millennials like Shrishti all face a similar consumer experience today. They are inundated with information at every step of their day, and they are simultaneously feeding into this data through constant connectivity with the Internet. While it is incredibly convenient to have this much data readily available, our capacity to consume it is limited by our cognition and attentiveness.
At the same time, consumers are also worried whether they can trust the brands to be honest with the information they provide and also with the information they seek. Consumers experience severe dissonance every time they realise a brand pretends to be sustainable in a way that they are not, and their trust shakes every time a BP, Cambridge Analytica, or Facebook comes to fore.
With the internet, consumers have become more discerning, more aware and more curious. They expect a certain level of accountability from the brands they use. This is the boon and bane of the information age- nothing remains hidden for long anymore.
The best strategy for a brand to adopt in this age, thus, is one of honest and open communication. While the consumer of present as well as of the future has certain expectations and values, the foremost among those remains one of honesty and truthfulness. Brand trust is thus the most important of factors influencing purchase. And while I have tried to extol on that logically, it has also been demonstrated empirically by Nielsen through its consumer survey. And the next immediate value on that list is sustainability: 66% of global consumers and 73% of millennials across 60 countries are willing to pay extra for sustainability.
For any brand hoping to truly resonate with its customers and leave an imprint in the world of excessive marketing, it is very important for the brand to align with these two values. Thankfully for all corporate brands, these go hand-in-hand, and the achievement of one propels the achievement of the other.
What are the various ways in which brands can set themselves apart? There are a few things that the brand must really focus their energy towards:
Innovate: Innovation in a brand’s marketing is excessively crucial. It is true that content is becoming more visual in nature, and as more visual content floods the consumer, it becomes that much more imperative for any brand to innovate, differentiate and resonate with the consumer. Coca-Cola is a great example of storytelling. The most lasting campaigns of the soda brand include its famous ‘Share a Coke’, ‘Taste the Feeling’ and ‘Open Happiness’. It launched a campaign in India-Pakistan which enabled people across 3D machines to mirror each other’s actions across borders. Most recently, the brand has released its ‘Love Story’ campaign. With a focus on recycling, the ad, which involved a set made entirely out of recyclable material, depicted two plastic bottles falling in love over and over again – all thanks to the magic of recycling. Coca-Cola has recently announced that hat it aims to collect and recycle the equivalent of all its packaging by 2030 – the campaign was a notable example of the brand stepping up on this issue.
Seek permission: Consumers are inundated with information, and everyone seems to know and realise that, but no one seems to do anything about it. Brands need to create relationships with the people who are truly interested in their message, rather than transmit it across in the hope that the right people would hear. This can’t simply be about hoodwinking customers into signing on to a subscription list- it is about actually understanding the customer and delivering what they want. One brand that has managed to create a niche for itself with thoughtful delivery remains the make-up brand Sephora, which through its online community, Beauty Talk – allows users to ask questions, share ideas, and have their beauty quagmires solved by other enthusiasts.
Be honest and gain trust: Ultimately, consumers want a brand they can trust. Irresponsible and untruthful greenwashing campaigns like the ones by BP or Exxon erode all consumer confidence and make brands reprehensible to future users as well. The best policy to adopt in today’s scenario is actually honesty. Patagonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ is a landmark campaign by a clothing company that encourages people to consider the effect of consumerism on the environment and purchase only what they need. It truly aligns its own values with those of its customers, and drives its inherent value upwards.
In the age of information abundance and sustainability-focus, the best bet that any brand can place is upon itself. Honest and open communication by the brand and a continued drive to develop an authentic relationship with its customers can truly drive the brand image.
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