Back to human (relationships change – will marketing?)
by Herman Manson (@marklives) Nicky Steel is pondering the evolution of human relationships and wondering why marketing hasn’t evolved alongside everybody else’s wants and needs. The traditional marketing funnel is still used by many marketers in building “relationships” with people. It’s a dated approach that is threatening their seat at the executive table according to Steel.
Steel is the COO of Yellowwood – a brand and marketing strategy consultancy founded by Andy Rice that is also part of the TBWA\Worldwide Group.
MarkLives: Human relationships have evolved – and you are saying marketing haven’t kept track with how we engage and relate. What happened?
Nicky Steel: Yes, consumers have evolved significantly in how they conduct their relationships, from the early 18th Century where marriages were arranged by family members and the couple involved had no say or choice, to the early 19th century with very formal courtship and marrying for life, to today when they are less committal, keen to trial things before committing, wanting things their way and always re-evaluating.
But as marketers we haven’t echoed this evolution in how we establish, build and grow relationships with consumers. If one looks at the “purchase funnel” that many marketers still use to map the relationships with consumers, we appear to be stuck in the days of courtship and marriage for life, assuming that if we give consumers enough reason to buy our brand they will choose it amongst their competitor set, progress to using the brand and on to life-long loyalty.
MarkLives: You argue that we need to rehumanise marketing if we are going to be building relationships with people. In practical terms how can this be done?
Steel: In today’s world where people can connect, filter, share, involve, all seamlessly and intuitively, the expectations people have of any real relationship are different and much more dynamic today than in the past.
We’ve been busy planning in annual cycles and then implementing something what was decided up to 12 months ago, whilst consumers want to have a conversation NOW about something that is relevant to them.
We need far greater agility in delivery. Yes we need to plan but we need to spend a greater percentage of our time in real-time conversations with consumers.
MarkLives: What are the key marketing assumptions and practices in place today that need to be challenged if marketers want to maintain their position at the executive decision making table?
Steel: Whereas previously marketers behaved like we had one thing on our minds – get me to buy – we need to rather show that we have a holistic view of what’s important to consumers and that we “get them”. They will then decide what to buy and in all likelihood it will be the brand that they connect with most strongly.
Rather than telling consumers what they want and being the maker of messaging, we need to listen and observe our consumer’s mood, mind and behaviours so that we can shape relationship moments by demonstrating empathy and understanding in what we do and say and being present at the tight time (rather than when the annual media plan says we will).
Instead of talking about ourselves all the time, we should pay a bit more attention to what we do and how we do it. Actions speak louder than words and consumers will pick these up.
We need to shift from rather predictable brand messaging to conversations and content that is interesting because we really understand our consumer and because we are constantly monitoring and analysing consumer-driven data.
MarkLives: Why aren’t marketers the consumer champions within organisations – surely this should be part of their core function if they are to be trusted to build relationships with people outside the organisation?
Steel: Other functions in the business have more information and potential insight into the consumer than Marketers, for example the IT department. They are therefore empowered to better represent and champion the consumer than marketers who are still caught in the cycle of internally driven planning and brand driven messaging.
Marketers need to get their hands on the real-time data that is being generated, listen to the conversations that are happening and translate this into real consumer understanding. This then needs to be shared within the organisation, enriching the business’ knowledge and empowering them to support the marketing team as the consumer champion – but ultimately every touch point that the organisation has with the consumer is the responsibility of the marketing department. These touch points are where the relationships will be built (or destroyed) and as marketers we need to be there.
MarkLives: Brands are increasingly content creators – what are the keys to creating engaging content?
Steel: 1. Find entertaining and engaging ways to get consumers’ attention: We are all aware that there is a huge amount of media content out there – with brands competing fiercely for the attention of consumers. The brands that are winning, find innovative ways to catch the consumer’s attention and engage with them in a positive manner for longer periods of time.
2. Frequently interact with consumers in a meaningful way: Brands that are winning today search for insight into what consumers are passionate about and demonstrate that they share those passions. They are constantly finding ways to interact with consumers to create stronger, more meaningful connections. These brands supply high interest, newsworthy, relevant content and facilitate meaningful conversations.
3. Invest in social network familiarity: Brands that find ways to facilitate closer connection between friends or other interest groups become part of those social circles and form bonds with consumers that are hard to break or replicate.
4. Value intimacy or closeness: We know that consumers are more likely to consider and be loyal to brands that they feel connected and close to. Leading brands are finding innovative ways to get physically and emotionally closer to consumers through their content and actions.
5. Disclose more of themselves: Leading brands have an open conversation with consumers. They are proud of their intentions and successes, but big enough to ask for help and input from consumers along the way and to be transparent about their shortcomings and faults.
6. Illustrate powerful insight into consumer goals: Leading brands win the game by being relevant in what they say, offer and do.
MarkLives: How are broader changes in the consumer and business environment impacting on how our industry is structured?
Steel: Structure is becoming irrelevant. Insight and relevant ideas and content are the key. He or she that has these is best placed to build a real relationship with the consumer.
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