How can brands connect with consumers today in the face of rising living costs?
I spoke with Ben Osborne, Director of Insights at Siegel+Gale EMEA, to hear his thoughts on what it means to be a consumer-led brand, and the strategies that brands will be working on in the coming months.
How would you define a ‘consumer-led brand’? Does this mean aligning with consumer values, focusing on customer experience, putting communication first – or all of the above?
Let’s play a little game – I tag a product and you note the brand names that come to mind.
Noodles. Chocolate. Diamond.
It doesn’t matter which brand names you came up with. What’s important is that there are at least a dozen brands in each product category that you could have listed. Did you think of a dozen brand names in each category? The answer is likely, no. This has little to do with your mental capacity as much as the impression each brand has made on you. Directly or indirectly.
A consumer-led brand is a sum of different parts at work to achieve its brand purpose. At its core is a constant flux of what the brand stands for and what consumers require of the brand. So, we are constantly leveraging consumer insights to qualify and quantify consumer value, to operationalise and optimise the end-to-end customer experience.
Can you give me an example of a customer-obsessed brand? What defines their success?
Patagonia is a great example. In a world inundated with social, green, blue, and pink corporate washing, Patagonia has remained authentic in its brand purpose, which happens to be nicely tied to its customer values. Like a north star, its brand purpose guides its strategy, product/user design, and customer experience. It is also simple and relevant.
This is where several brands miss it – the link between their reason for existence and their customer needs and values. In absence of this, it becomes virtue signalling, vague messaging, outdated purpose, or no purpose. Of course, today’s informed consumer can smell the fraud from a tweet away.
Something else Patagonia did was to allow its purpose to become dynamic, taking on a life of its own. So, beyond outdoor apparel, it is a sustainability advocate. It isn’t just an online retailer, but also a safe space to engage in activism on issues customers are compassionate about. It changed the culture of recycling to encapsulate stories that share meaning with the next gear user.
That is the key – living your purpose end to end.
What do you think of the opinion that some brands are becoming fixated on ‘purpose’ at the expense of long-term business success? What does real brand purpose mean to you?
Let’s start with what brand purpose is not. It is not about making society happy. Here’s why.
Society is made up of different target groups, and one brand cannot appeal to all of them. Brand purpose is a company’s reason for existence. It adds value to your customers. If it’s done correctly, it paves a long-term trajectory for a business.
The problem is many brands don’t really know why they do what they do except to make shareholders happy. And even when they know, they do not activate it in a way that appeals to their customers. It is mostly generic and tailored to appeal to the trending topic of the day, even when it conflicts with their product offering.
Imagine brands like Vice Cream in a health-obsessed world. It tackles adversity with humour and optimism, while staying true to its purpose of wanting people to indulge in life, and a broader purpose of bringing a smile to the faces of cancer patients and their families.
What’s been your favourite brand campaign from the past 18 months and why?
Weetabix: Heinz Beanz on Bix. What started as a tweet from Weetabix grew very organically, engaging multiple brands and garnering millions of impressions. What struck me was not just the use of insights to determine online consumer patterns, but the simplicity of the campaign and engagement. That was the catch – simplicity.
— Weetabix (@weetabix) February 9, 2021
Whether of purpose or customer experience, it was a real source of competitive advantage. Studies have shown that 57% of customers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences. We saw this at the end of the Weetabix campaign with a 15% increase in sales.
Another takeaway from this campaign was the relevance of the tweet. At a time when the world was reeling from the devastating effects of Covid and the glaring bipartisanship of politics, the tweet united the world (even if in disgust) to share in some humour.
Serious brands like NHS, National Rail, and West Yorkshire Police joined the thread, and Weetabix even earned a debate in the House of Commons. For a week in time, everyone checked their updates and laughed at cheeky responses from hundreds of brands.
What areas of strategy should brands be focusing on?
Fact-based branding. To build a brilliant brand, one factor I have found that holds sway is truth. What makes truth? Fact-based branding. It covers the entire customer life cycle – from acquisition to retention and expansion of existing relationships.
Fact-based branding not only provides concrete metrics for evaluating brand-building effectiveness, but it could be the nudge that moves your customer from the Consideration to Choice stage (and when done well, Loyalty).
It is a widespread myth that data limits creativity. I believe it unlocks it. Look at the financial industry. Where blue has been the trusted colour, how did we get to pastel? Insights. Start-ups have zoned in on this and are winning customers. Gone are the days of guesswork and just gut feeling.
Of course, there are methodologies to capturing both the qual and quant side of research to make data-driven decisions and avoid ‘bad’ research. Either way, it is important to remember that behind every great brand purpose, strategy or creative material is fact-based decision-making.
To me, brands that get this right have accomplished 50 percent of the brand transformation task.
What’s next for Siegel+Gale?
There are multiple shifts taking place in society – metaverse, Gen C, post-pandemic living, rising prices – and brands are now thinking about how to evolve to meet these challenges. We use research and analytics to stay ahead of these trends and offer data-backed branding insights to move businesses forward.