When Your Consumer Is Smarter Than Your Message
Marketing is all about creating products, delivery channels and brand communication based on insightful information about the consumer. However, consumers are ever-changing as their expectations and lifestyles evolve. But are brands responsive to these consumer changes? Are they evolving to keep pace and better connect with consumers or are they stuck in the past and doing the same old thing, irrespective of a changing consumer?
Popular culture tells us what is really going on in any country. Popular culture is visible in TV dramas, music, movies, news and social media. Advertising in any country finds its real power by picking up on popular culture to better connect with consumers – by crafting insightful and meaningful communication that mirrors society or takes imaginative leaps to show the future.
If you look at Pakistani TV dramas, movies, songs, news and social media, you tend to appreciate the fact that these mediums have taken the lid off what is really going on deep in our society. They are showcasing the nation’s mindsets, values, points of view, thinking, ideals, needs and wants – boldly and with no inhibitions.
The same cannot be said of our advertising. Watch any ad break on TV in full and you will agree. The ads are generally hesitant, scared and safe and struggling to rise to the next level. This in itself is a big sign that brands are not responsive to changing consumer lifestyles. This is unlike what we see in other countries where their advertising showcases popular culture and hence connects with the consumer.
Here, let me also add that there is always one exception out of 10 to what I am saying. There are some rare breed marketers out there who really tune the frequencies of their brand to those of their consumers and create work that is current, relevant and stands out from the sea of mundane.
I blame the clients and not the agencies. Clients always ask their agencies to come up with brave and bold work, yet they prefer to look at it in their boardrooms, appreciate and feel good about it, and then let it rust inside the cupboards of their agencies. They never have the guts to stand by it. They want a safe sell. This is why when, once in a blue moon, a great ad is produced by Pakistan’s ad industry, I applaud the brave client behind it, who must have fought many internal battles to get the world to see this magical work.
Sadly, overall our advertising remains dumb while consumers are smart – and if agencies are to uplift advertising in Pakistan and play their part as practitioners of the industry, I would urge them to fight their own internal battles and stand up for the work they believe best connects with the consumer rather than cave into what clients want.
As I said earlier, great marketing is about putting the consumer at the forefront of your strategy, so instead of your own opinions driving the conversation, let the information and insight drive it and then create your brand communication by trusting your agency.
With the spread of digital and social media and more competition, it is increasingly difficult to grab (and retain) the attention of the consumer. There are so many channels, so much stimulation and so many companies competing for the same buyer that brands have to constantly come up with creative ways (content, campaigns, ideas, etc.) to find something that works. And this calls, more than ever before, for companies to be brave and teach bravery and boldness to their brand managers along with the other training they impart.
The saying is that “fortune favours the brave” and we need to learn to overcome this societal barrier. Marketing needs to be taught to many brand managers, as the standards in the universities are not what they used to be. Good brand managers need to continuously update their understanding of marketing and advertising. Yet, the sad truth and insight are that everyone thinks they know marketing – and even worse, that the brand manager’s boss and his family know even better. So, no surprise that they do not want to get into this battle with their management – and the results show in the work our industry is producing.
Today’s consumers want to be recognised for their purchases and want companies to provide a seamless purchasing experience. Data is empowering both sides of the equation. Consumers know we collect data and they expect us to use that data to improve their experience. (In my opinion, brands are overwhelmed by the amount of data available and struggle to find the right balance so that the experience is helpful and not creepy.) Winning brands will be the ones that accurately target and personalise their messaging to address the needs of consumers, be they the ones that use every piece of information to tailor messages based on demographics and behaviour. Consumer loyalty is won when brands understand and respond to their needs and brands must provide these personalised experiences everywhere, whether online, in stores, on social media, via email or at an activation or event. This means knowing their preferences, their interests and their behaviour.
Expectations have never been higher and marketing as a discipline needs to focus on the fact that if clients want to build their brands and their business, they have to be responsive to changing consumer lifestyles and expectations.
Shoaib Qureshy is Founder and MD, Bullseye DDB Group.