How marketers can deal with super-connected consumers
Dealing with the demands of the connected consumer of the new age is becoming difficult – she speaks on social media and believes her peers and friends more than any advertisement or celebrity ambassador. As part of The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive, Dr Renuka Kamath delves into what marketers are doing to connect with this complex consumer in an increasingly globalized world.
Jaya is planning a short vacation in India with her colleague from Norway. She does the most obvious research online and asks her social media “friends” for options and advice. His friends and wider community compel not only to make suggestions, but to provide useful links to places, blogs, travel sites, YouTube videos. Some also design a cool route for them, which many other friends comment on. These online friends, from as far away as Norway, also carefully provide them with places with cuisine that his colleague would know. She ultimately decides on a location and designs her vacation, part in a host family, then in a resort and the rest in an Airbnb, all online from the comfort of her home. As they go on vacation, she and her coworker are warned ahead of time about food, trips, etc., with great advice even on the best cook and where.
Famous author Thomas Friedman wrote the book The World is Flat in 2005 when he used it as a comparison for a seamless world between countries and their inhabitants. In this homogeneous world, the only function that has been impacted in a phenomenal way is marketing. Consumers, both digital natives and digital migrants, are notified, leaving bits of data online with every transaction, monetary or otherwise. The rules of the game have been turned and businesses and brands must now keep pace with consumers. Traditionally, it was the other way around: brands declared their purpose, told their story and impacted their consumers as they wished.
Who owns the brand?
It is said that brands exist in the minds and hearts of consumers – while businesses can “own” them, brands reside with consumers. Never has this been so true and explicit! One could go so far as to say that consumers grasped brands with both hands, shaped them, molded them and sometimes threw them away. We are no longer talking about one-to-many mass marketing. So while space connectivity was once essential, marketers now have to be on guard. The proverbial marketing funnel takes on a whole different avatar due to consumer networks and interactions. Imagine this world of interconnected consumers networking with each other on social media platforms, forums and online communities, forever connected not only in one country but across the world. Training and market structures are changing.
The evolving face and shape of marketing
Consumers today are no longer consenting, buying only one product or service, but want to proactively contribute to brands, shape them by enthusiastically commenting, posting, even having fun with the brand. . It is a complex relationship when businesses find consumers involved in innovative and creative content. Let’s face it, consumers love the feeling of participating in building a brand. They appreciate the brands that ask them for their opinion and their contribution. As you can imagine, slowly and steadily, the balance of power between consumers and the business has shifted from a business-centric approach to a more user or consumer co-creation approach. Brands are on the way to becoming common creations.
However, as many brands have discovered, it can be a double-edged sword – a bane and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the age of social media and user-generated content (UGC), is it easy for a brand to manage its identity and image? It’s almost as if the narrative is slipping through the hands of marketers faster than they can keep pace. The pandemic has amplified this paradigm for marketing, especially for brands, due to consumer connectivity.
Consumers as partners, but with unfailing loyalty
At a very basic level, consumers can now contribute to product or campaign ideation and also choose from ideas within a community. Brands encourage it, which allows consumers to contribute. This has become an effective way for businesses to engage the network of consumers where they interact with each other, with almost a sense of community.
What are consumers looking for in return? What makes them a partner? Consumers love the limelight and the recognition when their posts or comments are successful. There is much greater confidence in each other’s reviews and posts, while some even get financial rewards if their ideas are selected. Consumers are persuading each other and there are now a lot of “influencers” that brands are wooing.
The challenges of new age marketing
All of this comes with its challenges. Maintaining momentum isn’t easy, and consumer complaints that go viral require extremely nimble redress. Brands also need to handle consumers differently on various social media platforms – on Instagram and Twitter, for example, they need to be cryptic, funny and edgy. LinkedIn, a little dark and professional. Then there is Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, Quora, Pinterest, TikTok, Flickr, WhatsApp, etc. to manage. The mercurial nature of consumer loyalty is reflected in conversations, putting brands in the spotlight, which can be both good and bad.
Meanwhile, Jaya and her Norwegian colleague are back, leaving traces of data points of reviews, comments, uploaded photos and comments from Bangalore and Oslo. They increase helpful reviews and thank reviews, come full circle and start a new one for brands to follow. And we haven’t even started on artificial intelligence and machine learning yet, which are grabbing their data points for marketing!
The author is Professor of Marketing at the SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai.
To learn more about how technology and trends are bringing the world together, check out The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive.