Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge shift in the relationship between consumers and the brands they engage with. Once upon a time, all businesses needed was a distinctive logo and a catchy slogan that made the case as to why we should choose their product above the others on the market.
As early as the 1930s, Britons were boldly told that Coca-Cola was “The best friend thirst ever had!” and that they should buy “Guinness for strength.” Fast-forward fifty years and consumers were bombarded with persuasive promises, from “You’re better off talking to Barclays” through to the self-proclaimed “Caring sharing Co-Op.”
Brands were the authority. What did the lowly consumer know that a household name didn’t? The people behind Guinness, Coca-Cola, the Co-op and Barclays clearly knew a thing about their industries and why their product was best for us, didn’t they?
We live in a very different world today. There’s a whole article I could write on financial services and the continued drive to regain consumer trust, but it is telling that the focus of Barclays’ current advertising campaign is to increase awareness of the risk of financial fraud amongst not just its customers, but the public in general. The Co-op, meanwhile, has, in its own words, “stripped back the gloss of advertising” with a campaign that centres on the good its ‘members’ are making to their local communities through a contribution from their spending on branded products and services from across the group.
There’s a clear trend of those businesses that have suffered high-profile reputational damage honing in on the issues that matter to their customers to show that they are putting them first. And it doesn’t stop at the brands whose reputations have been knocked.
With the internet giving us access to whatever information we choose to seek out, consumers have become smarter than ever. And whereas publicly-quoted businesses were once obliged simply to meet their investors and interested parties periodically, they must now be seen to embrace this free flow of information and show themselves to be transparent.
But it goes beyond obligation. With empowerment comes the ability to choose. Consumers know this, and many businesses have wised up to it too. Social values are increasingly important to consumers, who, regardless of sector, look beyond products and services when selecting their brands of choice. So these businesses set out to promote their values first and foremost.
And the way they are doing it is changing. Fractured trust and dented consumer confidence have shaped a natural cynicism in the people these firms are vying to reach. Mainstream marketing and communications have their vital place in conveying messages to an organisation’s audience and bringing to life the values that it is trying to portray. But businesses need to make what they stand for ring true. They need to talk to their customers.
The good news is that they can. Social media has opened up a world of possibilities for businesses who can now reach their audience outside of their transactional relationship, and on their audience’s terms. As consumers, we can choose who we want to follow – and if the said business crosses the line, we can ‘unfollow’, ‘unlike’ or unsubscribe at the touch of a button.
Eureka. Or not. The level of noise and activity across the social media highways that link brands and their customers is immense. In today’s digital world, consumers are bombarded with marketing and information at every turn. And when we’re inundated, we switch off. So, the challenge is not only to be heard but also not to saturate an audience with communications, because that can do more harm than ever reaching them in the first place. Remember that company whose emails always seemed to pop up in your inbox at the wrong time, despite you only ever buying from them once? Exactly.
So, while businesses need to converse, what they say has to be interesting. Consumers won’t be pitched to anymore. They want to understand what a brand stands for first and foremost. Then they want that business to show that they understand them. When an organisation can demonstrate that they understand their customer and champion the issues that matter to them rather than merely selling them products, then that customer is more likely to be interested in what they have to say.
This is where content marketing comes into play. As businesses compete beyond the realms of their industry with the whole digital stratosphere, the information they convey must be interesting, relevant and helpful. If an organisation can deliver compelling content to the people it wants to reach, then it will have a greater shot at getting its message heard and recognised as more than just another sales push.
I’ll be writing more on these pages on copy, content, and marketing with content to reach that inestimable customer and stay on their ‘follow list’. To receive future insights, please sign up here.