Diane Perlman
Diane Perlman 14 January 2019

How Marketers Can Meet the Needs of the Customers of the Future - and Why That Means Today’s Customers Too

The relationship between consumers, content and brands has changed immeasurably; a sea change in the last 10 years alone. With exponentially more opportunities for real-time interactions, it’s easier than ever before to understand consumer needs and target messages accordingly. Brands have been talking about moment marketing and reaching customers at the right-time in the right place, with the right message for some time now - but we finally have the tools at our disposal to make this a reality.

Looking back to look forward

To understand the future, we need to look back at the past. As consumers, all of our interactions with content used to be controlled by media owners. Broadcasters or newspapers would dictate when, where, and how their customers engaged with their output. Missed that TV show, or forgot to buy your monthly magazine? Sorry, your window of opportunity was gone. The age of mass marketing in era of media owner control was acceptable only because there was no alternative.

Now, the consumer controls everything. Want to catch up on your favourite Netflix show on your phone during the commute or check in on Facebook at work? That’s your choice as a consumer, and media owners have no control over when, where or how you choose to interact with their content. This is the power shift that has rewritten the rule book for marketers.

The individual approach

With consumers making the media decisions in the era of individual control, marketers are rising to the challenge of highly personalised engagement and the new consumer hierarchy of needs. Notably, the ‘conscious consumer’ has come of age in the decade since the last recession. This new breed of customer have an excellent understanding of their value to brands. With constant access to both qualitative (peer reviews, social media) and quantitative (price comparison and discount codes) information from their devices, their purchasing decisions are highly informed. For their part, marketing efforts must respect the consumer’s privacy,  taking into consideration both changes like the GDPR regulation plus consumers’ growing expectation of a quid pro quo from a brand in exchange for sharing their personal information.  

In part, this is why consumers are becoming more vocal and demanding of brands. And if they’re unhappy, social media has given them a platform to broadcast their complaints - or act as valuable advocates and champions for those brands that go the extra mile.

The small print

So how do you cater to each and every customer in the digital future and the ‘eyeball economy?’ Having previously paid for content, there’s now an expectation that it should be free - albeit funded by advertising. All too often, this is a fault line between brands and consumers. Brands should be transparent with consumers about the ‘value exchange’ that occurs when they sign up for a discount code or loyalty programme in return for their personal data.

On the other hand, consumers can expect that the ads they see will be tailored and based not just on previous clicks, but also on their behaviour. So if they’re on the go, they’ll be open to ads based on their location, plus other factors like the weather, time of day, etc. Think iced coffee ads for special offers in the cafe 100m away on a hot summer morning or special offers on ski hire if it’s winter in the Alps.

Exploit your customers’ trust - for example by bombarding them with unwanted, irrelevant messages or breaching GDPR rules by sharing their information without consent - and brands risk not only losing individual customers but also incurring their wrath on Facebook or Twitter, amplifying the damage considerably.

Seeing the wood for the trees

Which would you rather have - a massive uplift in engagement this week or a long-term understanding of how to build loyalty with your audience, even if that resulted in less spectacular figures in the short term? Marketing has become a key performance indicator of a business’ potential to meet consumer expectations. And for brands, it’s tempting to be dazzled by the quick win insights drawn from ever more tiny interactions with consumers every day.  

Yet easy-to-measure weekly data points does not mean that it’s the appropriate metric to consider. To really build and retain a loyal customer base, It’s data with longevity that matters, such as insights from six- to twelve-month media activities across mobile, desktop, OOH and elsewhere. Savvy brands should look for narratives and extrapolations based on audience profiles before, during and after campaigns, as well as those of competitors.

To future-proof your marketing strategy, you need to speak to your customers personally and acknowledge that they are in control. Transparency is critical - and will be rewarded. Above all, take the long view. Consider these your golden rules for marketing success now and in the future.

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