Ever seen a product launch or an ad campaign so random, tasteless or bizarre it left you wondering, “Jeez, what was that brand team thinking (or smoking)?” Sure, you have.
In fact, if you have ever worked in marketing or advertising, chances are you probably created a few such faux pas yourself (I certainly have). As an insider, you would also know that it is not because brand and agency teams are not thinking, per se. They are; they just are not thinking like their customers – and this is why every day, droves of new tone-deaf, confusing and cringe-worthy products and campaigns make their way into the mainstream, only to be met with mass bewilderment and bemusement. They lack one critical factor: consumer insight.
Launching a new product or campaign without consumer insight is like trying to start a fire without any fuel. Consumer insight drives everything from product innovation to relatable communication, acting as a guide for brands and agencies to connect with customers.
Businesses with poor consumer insight are unable to identify their customers’ needs, lack innovation and suffer from unfocused marketing and product development. They also don’t know who their most valuable customers are, which weakens all their efforts and initiatives.
Nowadays, a lot of brand strategies, product development and communication campaigns are drummed up in isolation, usually by people who are completely disconnected from the audiences they are trying to cater to. Even worse, without proper consumer understanding and insight, brand teams and agencies begin operating less like humans and more like pre-programmed marketing machines, spewing out uninspired manufactured jargon in an effort to rope in gullible customers. As a result, products fail to meet any real need, communication ceases to resonate with customers and business slowly dwindles – while audiences are left scratching their heads. For businesses and brands to compete (especially in today’s hostile environment), they have to know exactly who their customers are, and what they want and invest heavily in ensuring they are constantly engaged and satisfied.
Thanks to digital media, getting to know your customers (and what they think about your products, services, brand and communication) is now quicker, more transparent and easier than before. Whether they love your new billboard or find your products difficult to use, chances are they will let you (and the world) know on digital media. Brands should always invest in social media listening to find out what customers are saying and plan their future initiatives accordingly. They also need to ensure that their sales teams, customer service reps, and marketing and product teams are in sync to ensure that comments and complaints are not only recorded but routed to the right departments for swift action. When it comes to improving products, services and communication, your customers’ feedback is by far your greatest barometer of what works and what doesn’t. Not only that, most of the time, they are more than willing to tell you what they like and dislike, so it makes sense to use that information to your brand’s advantage.
One of my favourite examples of a brand that takes customer insight seriously is Heinz. Heinz ketchup has always prided itself on being exceptionally thick. However, thick ketchup is notoriously difficult to get out of the bottle. Instead of diluting their formula, Heinz built its entire big idea on equating thickness to quality. In 1991, they even went as far as to invent the upside-down (self-dispensing) plastic squeeze bottle to make it easier for customers to get every last drop out of the bottle. It was an insight-driven idea that went on to revolutionise the way other brands and categories would later package their products. The same patented valve technology was used by NASA to create leak-proof cups for astronauts in space.
Collecting consumer feedback and insight is one thing, responding to it is another.
I once attended a focus group where customers were asked to react to a brand’s upcoming product. They clearly didn’t like it. The comments were constructive but overly negative. When this feedback was presented to the brand’s head of marketing, instead of reworking the product, his response was: “Who cares what the customer thinks?!” He ended up rolling out the product as it was without any changes.
Sadly, sometimes brands know exactly what their customers are thinking, but they are more preoccupied with their company’s immediate goals and challenges. Often it is because it would be too costly or time-taking to scrap or rework a product or campaign to align with customer preferences, so they proceed as is (the irony being that this is precisely why focus groups are conducted in the first place).
Successful brands, on the other hand, know that dissatisfied customers are valuable assets in providing candid feedback regarding products, service levels and communication. They provide a perspective that rarely comes from within the organisation and typically resonates with what other customers are thinking. I have noticed that a lot of brands nowadays are hesitant to respond to critical feedback online, often snubbing customers with robotic auto replies or abstaining from such conversations altogether. Such brands should never bother going online. Digital marketing is a two-way street, so if you plan on putting your brand in cyberspace, you better be ready to respond to whatever comes your way, especially the bad stuff. In fact, how brands respond to disgruntled customers online reflects their true level of customer service and has a huge impact on potential customers reading the comments. Good or bad, if your customers are engaging with you, always ensure you respond to them. As a brand on digital media, that is the least you can do.
Despite all your robust brand strategies, detailed marketing objectives and sizeable budgets, if you don’t know who your customers are or what they want, you will never be able to engage them effectively – and you will never be able to think like them either. Remember, successful brands don’t chase customers, they attract them by creating insight-driven products and campaigns that resonate with audiences. They don’t shoot in the dark or put out experimental products and communication in the hope that people will pay attention. Instead, they invest in understanding who their core audiences are, how to reach them, and how to make the brand a part of their lives.
But above all else, great brands never lose their ability to think like regular warm-blooded customers. Whether that means continuously improving products, creating relatable ad campaigns, or talking to their customers less like businesses and more like acquaintances, successful brands are those who come across as human, with character and personality. They are the ones that take the time to understand us, our needs, and how to enhance the quality of our lives. They are the ones that include us, make us ponder, smile, share and eventually become the ones that we grow to love unconditionally.
Taimur Tajik is Creative Head, Interwood.