A game-changer for brick-and – mortar stores was online shopping. Now that it’s possible to buy almost anything with an Internet connection from anywhere in the world, stores have to sell their customers anything they can’t find online. Increasingly, that means giving them positive experiences that are unforgettable.
Take the French fashion label Sézane. The company has a tiny marketing budget and relies on its fanatically loyal fanbase posting images of its clothes on social media. Its stores are meanwhile designed as “lifestyle showrooms.” These immaculately curated spaces resemble apartments and allow consumers to browse products in an intimate living environment.
In the industry, Sézane was an early mover, but several other brands are following suit. 83 per cent of marketers said that customer engagement had become more critical over the previous five years, according to a 2016 Marketing Week study. Today, shops across the globe are less about finishing deals and more about immersing consumers in a lifestyle. Retail, in other words, is not about buying things-before reaching for your wallet, it’s about experiencing a brand.
When Goodson was hired by Suntrust, one of the top ten banks in the US, in 2016, he set out to develop a strategy that answered potential customers’ real concerns and motivated them to solve those concerns themselves. Financial protection was the number one issue, it turned out.
More than 80 % of Americans indicated that they were held up at night by money issues and that just under half didn’t have at least $2,000 saved for emergencies. Goodson then supported Suntrust to launch onUp, a campaign that offers free tools for Americans to discuss financial instability and share tips and ideas. The theme did resonate. The movement has 2.6 million members today.
The media group, Havas, introduced a list of familiar brands to customers in 2017 and asked which ones they cared about. As it turns out, if a whopping 74 per cent of these brands vanished completely, most customers wouldn’t mind. Stats like these illustrate a widespread issue for marketers: many consumers feel little loyalty to seemingly interchangeable brands with so much competition out there.
People don’t want to be mindless users, though. After all, we all hanker for a sense of belonging, and there is no reason that should not also extend to what we purchase. That makes sense. In our consumer choices, we seek meaning and intent and associate with brands which represent our values.
Advertisers have cottoned to this, and by championing ethical principles, it’s become a popular marketing tactic to distinguish brands from their competition. They cater to customers participating in conscious capitalism by doing this-consumption that represents their ethical values. But this is sometimes little more than intent washing, as Marie Agudera, Director of Strategy at the London-based ad agency, Fold7, pointed out in an interview with the author. Instead of actually making values a central part of their business model, this relates to the way certain brands talk about values to improve their credit and sales.
Yet there are plenty of businesses who get it right. Consider Falcon, a business that promotes the trade of coffee beans around the world between hundreds of export nations and roasters. Instead of simply turning a fast buck in this lucrative and sometimes directly exploitative exchange, the concept behind the venture is to create “collaborative supply chains” that support both parties.
Falcon is completely open on how it sources its coffee to illustrate that this is not just a marketing gimmick. In a 2014 film entitled A Film About Coffee, which was seen in Falcon-affiliated cafes, this was mirrored. Coffee drinkers were shown in the film how hand-harvested Honduran and Rwandan coffee beans end up being served in Tokyo and Portland in skinny cortados, and who benefited along the way as well.
A different approach was taken by the American shoe company TOMS, pioneering a new business model in the “giving company.” It gives another pair to poor children in Latin America and Africa for every pair of shoes TOMS sells. However, this isn’t just a feel-good story. It also allows customers to connect with the brand by showing that their daily decisions can improve lives and make the world a better place-if they choose TOMS, that is!
Pepsi launched a glitzy short-film commercial starring Kendall Jenner, an American model, in 2017. In it, Jenner walks off the set of a photo shoot unexpectedly to join a street rally. Before grabbing a can of cold Pepsi and handing it to a scowling police officer, she mingles with the crowd and embraces protesters who, predictably enough, smile in response.
It was a tragedy. Millions of angry viewers had taken to social media within hours to announce the ad an epic # fail. They mocked the typecast millennial demonstrators, the ridiculous posters with slogans such as “join the discussion” and, most of all, the inappropriateness of a soda maker seeking to piggyback on recent demonstrations against police brutality and the Trump administration in the US. Pepsi pulled the ad a day later.
It was a perfect example of how when brands try to use culture to improve their reputation, things can go south. As critics saw it, in a blatant effort to sell more of its beverages, a massive corporation had clumsily appropriated something that millions of individuals took very seriously. Pepsi had obeyed the first adland rule in advertising terms-get noticed-but forgotten the second rule: be likable. Everybody remembered the commercial, but they despised it as well.
The reasoning behind Pepsi ‘s campaign, however, was not totally misguided. The brand explicitly acknowledged that culture is one thing consumers still respect and trust in a post-truth world. So how, without rubbing people the wrong way, will advertisers tap into this strong source of emotion and identity?
Authenticity in a phrase. For decades, clothing companies have been attempting to cash in on this fashion culture. The problem they typically face is that they imitate the real clothes worn by the style exemplars, which defeats the argument. Parisian chic is certainly not about aping others’ style, it’s an attitude of trust that allows women to combine the old with the modern, putting their own special spin on classics, and that’s the main point here. You lose its authenticity when you transform a culture into a stereotype or, in this case, a formulaic uniform, the very thing that made it appealing in the first place.
We exist in a culture that’s post-truth. The institutions that were once reliable sources of reality are now viewed by people and consumers alike with intense cynicism. The face of advertising is changing that. Today, it is not enough to simply outshout the competition and make exaggerated statements that marketers have to create concrete relations about how great a product is. This increasingly implies stressing authenticity, whether it’s using real people in marketing campaigns, building immersive environments or exploiting community.
Check out my related post: Have you tried TOMS?