Shift of the Paradigm: Consumers want back some of the power they have given to brands
In the relatively short history of marketing we have seen the wheel to make a full circle.
In the beginning brands were seen as part of a desirable world that could appear more attractive than the real one. The symbolic meanings the brand added to consumers’ lives meant more than any functional advantage. Advertisements were fairy tales that opened the gates to a colourful, brilliant and alluring place.
For years on consumers unquestionably embraced brands, making them part of their lives, habits and memories.
But the love story is now over. Consumers started to evaluate, to consider possibilities and look for validation. We are seeing how the brand-consumer relationship is turning around.
As consumer power grows, we are seeing brands earth grounded in the world of objects. They become a product of reality, which makes them liable to validation. Brand promises are questioned. To say you are good for me is not enough, you have to prove it.
On the other hand, in the times of their prime, some brands made promises they could not keep. As disappointing experiences accumulated more and more consumers became consciously aware of the possibility brand promises to be just ungrounded claims. Consumer disappointment eroded the trust in these brands.
In the background the ways and rules of the world we live in changed rapidly and significantly. Internet made things accessible and people powerful. Consumers acquired new tools of social interaction. Participation in groups and communities, reading of comments, writing of posts – all this make one opinion heard by many.
The spirit of time we live in brings about sharing, openness and fast communication. The new culture is dialogical.
What this means to the brand manager is that you still have a story to tell, but your brand story is not your exclusive creation. Your consumers have a voice and they use it: to add value to the brand or … to discredit it.
It is of crucial importance to get into an engaging dialogue with the consumer.
Customer knowledge and living the consumer experience is the basis. Research methodologies that will help you to enter into the consciousness of people who buy (or do not buy) your brand are ethnography, creative groups and other qualitative methods. Having your online research community, where you can listen, observe and engage in a dialogue with consumers is a new way you may want to try as well.
Next, is the constant adaptation of product offering. We live in times when consumers state their individual needs. And they have got ideas! Use them for creating new products, for refining the existing portfolio.. Be ready to personalize as much as possible.
And third, the authenticity of communication. Consider the new reality: the brand is seen as equal to the consumer and you are having a one-to-one dialogue.
Fairness and honesty have never been more important. A wrong label or the wrong ingredient on the label gets noticed. The wrong sentence in the small font gets noticed. News circulates wide and fast.
It takes a different route to connect with the conscious and active consumer and a totally changed perspective.