The scale and nature of social connectedness has evolved - enabled by social media - and this has defined a new kind of consumer. The consumer that we know today has a powerful sense of self-determination, expectations of choice and a greater sense of control over their own lives - including how and why they choose a brand.
This means that successful brands are actively undergoing a marketing evolution. They are shifting away from the old formula of shaping brand identity by crafting messages and then finding creative expression for these messages. Their focus today is on being a receptor and facilitator of consumer needs in three key areas: they facilitate the consumer's thirst for interaction (we all have an opinion and we want to share it); facilitate the consumer's participation in shaping the brand/product or interaction, and facilitate engagement inside the world of the consumer.
Successful brands embrace technology as a powerful enabler. They do not view technology such as social media platforms as the primary factor that shapes marketing today. Rather they know it as one of the tools that allows them to deliver on increased consumer expectations in a new social context.
So, what are the five behaviours marketing and brand managers should embrace to find success into the future?
It is an age-old marketing problem and it is more relevant than ever now. There is a deluge of content out there - with brands competing fiercely for the attention of consumers. Winning brands must find innovative ways to engage consumers in a positive way and for longer periods of time.
For example, McDonald's placed a digital billboard in Sweden that allowed people with smart phones to play a virtual game of ping pong. Players who lasted longer than 30 seconds won McDonald's coupons. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in a relatively low-tech example, Adidas placed branded punching bags in Chinese subway stations, so commuters could express their frustration in a healthy way
These examples have several markers in common: they are fun (interactive), allow consumers to express themselves (opinion) and facilitate engagement with the world around the consumer. If your brand challenge is to be heard above a lot of noise, these are the three components to creating a brand campaign that will be heard.
Meaningful interaction requires an investment of time and money. It also signals that traditional marketing research methods have fallen by the wayside. We need to find new ways to listen and invent new platforms based on what we learn about the needs of our consumer.
Brands that are winning search for insight into consumer passions and demonstrate that they share those passions. 'Know thy customer' has become a multi-dimensional, always-on requirement of the job and it can only be achieved through experiential engagement with the client to understand what turns them on and how to shape a campaign to meet that need.
A good example of how to do this is luxury fashion brand Burberry. Partnering with Twitter ahead of their show at the London Fashion Week, Burberry enabled people to see the collection online before the models hit the runway and allowed consumers - through the use of instant digital purchase capability - to buy directly from the runway.
Yes, they met the need for convenience, reach, etc. but Burberry's primary insight was that it understood that the consumer expects to be at the cutting edge of fashion (by seeing/buying items before anyone else does) and wants to engage in a way that is in itself trendy. Burberry made that possible - using technology as an enabler.
If your brand challenge is to create stronger, meaningful connections for the consumer that captures brand loyalty: you need to discover and maybe even predict what they want to have/do/feel. You can only do this by watching, listening and interacting with the consumer (and their networks) in real-time. Then, whether it's a virtual analysis of their golf game or 'live' conversations with commentators about the stock market - invest in finding a way to deliver it.
Remember those brands from your childhood that created sticker or card collections, where you could swap with friends, trade or play games to complete your set? They understood that brands that build closer connections between friends (or other interest groups) become part of those social circles. They formed bonds with consumers that are hard to break or replicate.
An example from today's world: a beer label taps into the trend of watching TV whilst also chatting with mates via social media or mobile phones - Heineken launched StarPlayer, an iPhone app that enables fans to interact in real time with the nail-biting action of the UEFA Champion's League. The app allows players to predict what will happen at key moments in UEFA Champions League matches to score points. StarPlayer works in real-time with players invited to forecast the outcome of corners, free kicks and penalties and to have the chance to guess when goals will take place. Different point scores are awarded depending on the likelihood of the outcome. In South Africa, Castle Lager launched a similar campaign where viewers could 'play coach' and make real-time calls during the match.
The key markers: it's interactive and allows the consumer to express themselves, it allows for participation and it facilitates engagement with the world around the consumer.
If your brand challenge is: to be less remote from consumers and more engaged, the defining characteristic of your campaign should be to facilitate ways to for consumers to interact within their social circles or networks about subjects on which they are passionate.
Creating 'experiences' makes consumers feel more intimately connected to the brand. And consumers are more likely to be loyal to brands to which they feel connected. For example: IKEA came across a Facebook group with over 100,000 fans called 'I wanna have a sleepover in IKEA.' The company turned their dream into a reality through a competition that picked 100 lucky winners and hosted a sleepover at their store.
If your brand challenge is: to help consumers 'live the brand, 'create memorable experiences that allow the consumer to 'feel and touch' the brand and its values.
Leading brands have an open conversation with consumers. They are proud of their successes, but also ask for input and are transparent about their shortcomings. For example: the fast food chain Domino's Pizza used a huge billboard space in Times Square to live-stream customer feedback (good and bad) via Twitter. Disclosing more about the brand/product builds trust. It invites two-way communication and demonstrates an awareness that the customer is, in fact, in control,
If your brand challenge is: to be more authentic, to demonstrate a healthy respect for the consumer and to achieve trust/loyalty, find ways that are not controlled, mediated or edited by the company to disclose more about the brand/product. Let the customer be in charge of the message.