Since digital marketing came to prominence, the way people buy and engage with brands has fundamentally transformed. In tandem with the powerful force of conscious consumerism, the connection between what we once called “consumers” and the businesses that sell products has become deeper and more meaningful, to the point that it now resembles a friendship more than it does a commercial relationship.
People no longer want to buy from brands, but buy into them. They spend hours each day browsing the About Us section of brand websites from a carefully-curated consideration list, delving into the histories and passions of the people behind the product. If they encounter signs that a business does not match up to their complex, socially-progressive worldview, they will take radical steps to forget about them – one focus group participant recalled setting up a blacklist on his computer so he wouldn’t accidentally end up buying a bottle of whiskey produced by a team that would only commit to 16 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
People now care more about their relationships with brands than they do about those with their friends. While friendship circles often contain multitudes of personal opinions, some hotly contested, people are not willing to afford the same tolerance to brands that fail to live up to high ethical and moral standards. This is why Amazon, Uber and Nike are rapidly gaining market share: because their actions always match up to what millennials say they want from the brands they buy from. Sorry, into.
Search Engine Marketing also means there’s no such thing as an unconsidered purchase any more. Everything is researched in painstaking detail. Much of the reason people say modern life is “too hectic” is because they are literally forced to spend 8 hours a week shopping for groceries, reading the in-depth Brand Stories on the back of packaging and deciding which one fits best with their worldview. Anybody who doesn’t do this is shunned, cast out as a capitalist heathen with no integrity or courage. And decisions are always made based on complete, intricate rational arguments, and never because “the red one looks better for some reason.” Those days are long gone. Consumers are smarter, now. More engaged.
So how should brands behave in this brave new world? Well, you should assume that all of your customers want to hear from you all of the time. Make direct engagement tactics like email and organic social media the centre of your marketing plan; don’t worry, in this brave new world, the market will come to you, wide-eyed and hanging on every word you say. Make sure you have a deep story to tell; if you don’t, make one up. Forget the anachronistic notion that “awareness” or “saliency” are really what matter; focus on how many people say they “love” your brand. Include a question in your brand tracking asking: “Which of these have you expressed your love for more frequently this week: Your Spouse, or Our Brand?” Fire your marketing team if it’s not at least 50/50.
Or, you know. Stop believing what con artists tell you and compare it with your own, lived experience of the world, where you bought 50 branded products last week and couldn’t tell me shit about at least 48 of them.