It’s no secret that the new behaviours of hyper-connected consumers are fundamentally changing the interaction between brands and consumers.
Consumers now research, review and consume content anywhere and everywhere – at lightning speed – yet marketing is still stuck in ‘channel-orientated thinking’.
This gap between brands and consumers has generated the keeping-up-with-the-latest-and-greatest questions that now rain down on marketers: ‘Have you added social or push messaging to your channel mix?’ ‘What are we doing about Snapchat?’
These questions, well-intentioned though they are, reflect a deeply flawed way of thinking. Marketers shouldn’t try to begin repairing the quality of their consumer relationships by adding new channels.
It’s the marketing equivalent of shooting first and asking questions later. A marketing strategy must be built on a foundation of fully considering and understanding the needs and desires of the people you are trying to engage.
From channels to consumer-first
Slowly but surely, the term “consumer-first” is creeping into UK marketers’ vocabulary.
This shift in vernacular indicates an important change in thinking. A communication approach that places consumer needs at the centre of everything a brand does makes increasingly more business sense, as today’s hyper-connected consumers not only make purchase decisions “on-the-go”, they switch seamlessly between channels, devices, and expect the same flexibility from brands.
However, too often, brands address channels in isolation. The email marketers don’t speak to the in-app messaging team or the website team don’t speak to the offline campaign team, etc.
Even when the teams do communicate, the marketing platform often doesn’t support a continuous data exchange.
This means that even when all marketers are doing well on ‘their channels’, the consumer loses out.
The key to connecting with the hyper-connected consumer is to stop using the channel as the starting point for planning and execution. Marketers have to stop thinking that they can map channels and content along a single customer journey and recognise that hyper-connected consumers take many routes to purchase.
Even when all marketers are doing well on ‘their channels’, the consumer loses out
Stop mapping and start identifying critical moments to engage, then act rapidly and contextually to build relationships on consumers’ terms. Rather than focusing on delivering on a mobile-first approach or nailing responsive design, a Consumer-First Marketing approach elevates the entire customer experience.
Content is king: Context rules supreme
Contextual understanding of desires and preferences is a key aspect of consumer-first marketing, as it opens up new possibilities for companies to deliver on needs through the smart use of data. It goes far beyond knowing who your customer is and where he is located.
The aim is to continuously build out a rounded profile of your customer. This approach can include tracking behavioural data, transactional data, data from social media and much more. The key is to create and offer content that is not just relevant and valuable for potential customers – but also triggers feedback.
Using feedback combined with other data sets, brands can learn more about their customers, recognise strong signals of intent and begin delivering contextually relevant content at the right moment.
Context is what shapes what Google has dubbed ‘micro-moments’. These are the every-day moments in which consumers seek information or a product on the go.
And only the best marketers can recognise, deliver and capitalise on these moments.
Consumer-first in practice: Retail
So, how does this understanding translate into an effective marketing strategy? Let’s take a basic scenario with a business traveller in which she receives an email from a retail store chain at which she is a loyal customer.
By using modern email software technology, the retail store can recognise that the customer has opened the email in a different location to her hometown and can therefore presume she is travelling and that she is likely to be spending the night in a hotel.
Based on this, and the fact that the retail chain also has stores in the traveller’s destination, it can personalise the email with dynamic content to leverage its existing relationship and provide contextual relevance.
In this scenario, the retail chain works on the basis that it is tough to keep up with good eating habits when you are on the road and sends an offer for healthy snacks it knows the customer likes, based on her transactional history.
The retailer will certainly be able to offer superior products at a lower price point than the hotel – perhaps even with a delivery to the room.
Or, using weather data as the basis, it can provide an offer for useful items such as an umbrella or sunglasses. Whether it be value-add products or simply useful information, such as jogging routes for persons who buy sports gear, in scenarios such as these, the customer receives a real value-add and the brand deepens its customer relationship.
Consumer-first marketing: A game changer
An often overlooked element in examining the shift towards consumer-first marketing is the fact that communication is based much more strongly on a focus on quality of communication and nurturing, as opposed to quantity and turnover.
Brands in industries that have long customer lifecycles understand this principle best and can provide learnings for marketers in faster-moving industries.
Tesla is a great example.It understands that not every customer who comes into contact with the brand will be ready to buy a car immediately, not least because Tesla’s mass-market Model 3 is still over a year away from general release.
As a result, its communication is more reserved and respectful. It focuses on community-building, story-telling and generating an all-round positive brand experience with useful information, such as country-specific updates on tax breaks for electric cars or breakthroughs in battery technology.
Customers can remain in this segment for years, receiving non-intrusive communication every couple of months. Instead of bombarding customers with too much information, this consumer-first strategy focuses on establishing consistent and long-lasting relationships that strengthen brand loyalty.
Marketers need to understand that in a world where we are responsible for an out-of-control number of marketing messages (up 10 x in the last 40 years), we need to treat the most precious resource of all – consumer attention – with respect and integrity.
Consumer-first marketing helps brands build relationships on consumers’ terms. It is a marketing approach based on empathy towards the consumer.
And an important part of this approach is a deep respect for consumer preferences, meaning that marketers only communicate using consumers’ content preferences and settings, and have the courage to cease or dramatically dial down communication, if required.
Marketers who are able to recognise and react to consumer preferences in a timely fashion with the right tone will ultimately delight customers. This will help to deliver long-lasting value that will not only provide a competitive advantage, it is the foundation for consumer-first marketing.