We could argue at length about the influence that social media actually has on people’s thinking day to day, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that the conversations people are having over longer timeframes are reframing their attitudes to sectors at a macro level.
Take for example the shifts happening in Big Food. There is clear recognition amongst brands that consumers are moving away from old formats and towards eating options that at least feel healthier, more real and less mass-market. That shift is making its presence felt in new formats and new acquisitions as brands seek to respond to a change in public sentiment.
As Derrick Daye likes to say, brands share the aisles today with the smartest and most impatient shoppers to ever walk the planet. The dilemma for many marketers is knowing what to keep and what to change.
Brands share the aisles today with the smartest and most impatient shoppers to ever walk the planet
How do you retain what makes the brand recognisable and valuable and at the same time shift it along so that it continues to feel current? How much notice do you take as a brand of what people are saying and how much do you simply leave them to talk? As Nick Fereday observes in this Ad Age article, there may be a disquiet about what goes into mass-produced foods like Kraft Mac & Cheese, but these items still sell by the millions. $901 million last year, in fact, according to Euromonitor International.
Five questions in deciding the path forward
1. What are we seeking to make/do? Seems such an obvious question doesn’t it, but getting brands to focus on their operating mandate doesn’t happen anywhere near enough. This is not a question directed at deliverables. Instead it asks where a brand sees itself in a market in terms of what it does, the value it brings, the difference it brings and who it will continue to look to for customer cues. It’s a question focused on intention. It’s about what the presence of the brand brings and adds that others don’t, won’t or can’t. What’s your quest? And what journey does that quest drive? Mapping that gives a brand its story and consistency. When you know the answer to that simple question, you know why you are in a market, why you will stay with that market and why you are valued within that market.
2. What can we improve? So often brands make improvements that appeal to them or that are based on trend-chasing, not improvements that progress the relationship for the customer and that align clearly and strongly with the mandate above. What’s lacking too often is a direct correlation between the information that big data makes available and the application of that knowledge to improving what customers understand about the brand. When improvements are done well, there is a deliberateness and a discipline in their application. Ongoing changes like these enable brand managers to monitor direct impacts on sentiment, demand, profitability and margin. These are the tweaks that every brand should be making to keep its products in the news: adding, removing and altering what is in its products and using those insights to drive what customers get and expect next. This is how even the biggest brands can feel and stay close.
3. What do we take a stance on? Social media is powered by opinion and exchange. Brands should be using such channels to lay out what I refer to as their “public principles”. These are the go’s and no-go’s that direct a brand’s public journey. They help consumers understand a brand’s moral direction. They make sense of the improvements and guide where, why and how a brand participates in a market. The critical alignment here is that a brand should take a stance that make sense to its consumers and that enhances their understanding of, and desirability for, the brand. It’s not about playing politics. It’s about standing for and against things that enhance or impede the brand’s intention.
4. What do we introduce? Beyond the incremental improvements that they make to engage and reward customers and to confirm their commitment to their intentions, brands also need to bring new ideas to market that address the needs and priorities of customers. Introductions differ from improvements because of their scale and what they signal. Introductions re-inform the intention: by shifting it in some way; extending it; or focusing the brand more tightly on a particular aspect of it. The critical balance is to introduce a new aspect to the brand that doesn’t cannibalise or compromise what the brand is renowned for.
5. What do we leave behind? Transiting customers from the brand they knew to the brand they will get to know inevitably requires continued streamlining of your brand portfolio. Again, it’s critical that this is framed in terms of the intention and not simply as an efficiency drive.
Focusing on affinity
It’s tempting to approach all of this at a product decision level. However, I think there’s more merit in framing all of the above in ways that focus on affinity:
- What do we bring to this market that our customers are looking for? (and that wouldn’t be here if we weren’t?)
- Why will our customers stay with us? What do they want more of?
- What are we all agreed on?
- What will take them by surprise? What will we bring to market that they weren’t ready for (but were glad to see?)
- What will they not miss once it’s gone? What does our willingness to withdraw that product say about us to our customers and what does it signal to our competitors?