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Guest Blogger

by Susan Vidler, European Chief Research Officer at Toluna

Covid-19 has forever changed our lives and behaviours, from everyday activities such as where we work and how we keep fit, to how we save and where we spend our money. A year of disruption highlighted what we as consumers value – and more importantly, what we want from brands and how we will choose which brands to support. In fact, recent research reveals that 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that aligns to their personal values.  Many consumers want and expect brands to be more environmentally and socially conscious and behave in a compassionate and responsible way.  While consumer values differ from person to person, brands must work to better understand those values so they can better know their consumers.

The past year was a tipping point for “stakeholder capitalism.” Consumers watched as brands responded (or didn’t) to the pandemic and various social justice movements. And 2021 is already shaping up to be the era of “The Values Economy”.

Authenticity

It’s critical for brands to demonstrate their authenticity and show that they’re listening to and are in tune with their audiences. Brands must ensure they outwardly present their values and consistently integrate them across all of their strategies. Relevant messaging is vital, and organisations can do this in multiple ways. Smart brands have already started integrating their values in engaged, informed marketing strategies and via community outreach and forums that allow them to listen to their consumers or solicit vital feedback. These savvy brands recognise it’s imperative to engage in constant dialogue with their consumers to keep their finger on the pulse of changing consumer behaviour.

When we look at how people shop, what and where they buy, how they’re feeling – all this sentiment and behaviour has dramatically changed in the past year – and is still changing. When we think about how brands should connect with consumers, we need to break it down into two separate methods. The first is through relevant messaging – what brands should say to their consumers – which is incredibly important. The second is by listening to consumers, which can be done by creating a customer community, engaging in social listening exercises and – importantly – paying attention to the comments. Brands need to understand how they’re consumers feel, the questions they’re asking and their key concerns. Before they deliver any new message or move in the market, brands must conduct real-time research that will give them vital insights into changing consumer sentiment. This level of always-on insights will enable brands to determine whether messaging is relevant and will allow them to connect with the intended audience at that exact right moment.

Brand Health

Brand health monitoring must be agile enough to keep pace with consumer evolution and inform a brand’s future decision making. By developing a more strategic view of its brand and positioning, businesses can ensure they don’t simply look back at past performance, but rather plan ahead and assess their fitness for the future and ability to rise above competitors.

The past year clearly demonstrated how important it is for brands to show empathy and compassion and that they understand the current market and how their consumers feel. We saw advertisers try to do this at the height of the pandemic. For example, some luxury car brands that historically would feature commercials with car owners driving through busy metropolitan streets pivoted to instead show consumers driving their family through the woods to enjoy a hike. Did this advertisement motivate an action? Perhaps not. While it was sensitive to what people were experiencing, it likely didn’t go far enough to truly communicate empathy.

On the other hand, we also saw brands such as Nike go a step further; the company chose to confront racism by creating a new movement around its ‘Just do it’ slogan, replacing it with ‘For once, don’t do it… Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.’ Both empathetic and compassionate, this campaign caused many other brands such as Facebook and Citibank to follow suit.

We also witnessed successful displays of empathy that went beyond message repositioning to offer consumers meaningful, issues-based communications and tangible support. But some companies may fear reputational risk and may be more hesitant to pivot to meet global consumer sentiment, which is a mistake. Today’s brands can’t afford to remain static. The wait-and-see approach is over; brands must constantly communicate with their consumers and potential consumers either physically or digitally to keep their finger on the pulse of the consumer landscape. Brands must be able to understand current consumer sentiment and changing actions to ensure their longevity and brand voice strength. One of the biggest risks for marketers right now is not negative brand impact; it’s inaction that will result in stagnation while their audience continues to evolve.

The Competition

The ability to demonstrate future relevance and vitality are integral to medium-term success, and brands must be able to measure how they stack up when it comes to consumer expectations. Competitive benchmarking is an important aspect of understanding today’s dynamic market landscape. And differentiation is everything. The past year pushed businesses to their limits and saw many struggle to adapt to new ways of working. Yet others used their channels to rethink how they approach their consumers – and rose to the occasion to evolve with their audiences and exceed expectations.

There are three main ways to deliver success:

  • Robust brand tracking that regularly reviews competitors including up and coming threats. Look to measure your brand health more than once a year or on an ongoing basis
  • Differentiated communication. Brands must ensure they’re first to market with messaging that’s authentic to the brand. If you aren’t first, make sure you are authentic but differentiated.
  • Know your consumers. The more understanding and data brands can put behind their decisions, the more they can evolve their product offering and messaging, and mitigate the risk attached to those decisions to build medium-term customer loyalty.

Technology-led research and measurement

Brands realise that research is at the heart of understanding consumers and the competitive landscape. The past year made it clear to consumers what matters most to them – and brands must quickly act on this so they can strengthen and protect their long-term brand voice. And when brand values align with consumer values, the result is an improvement in long-term customer loyalty.

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