by Jerry Mpufane (@JerryMpufane) Corporations no longer ‘own’ the brand. It lives in the consumer’s mind, in their social media feeds, and on their mobile devices. It lives on the stage of popular opinion. As such, data is gold and brands must position themselves so as to constantly gauge consumer sentiment.

In 2013, global brands such as Bud Light and TV show True Blood demonstrated their support of gay marriage by using the equal sign in their creative content. Over the past few years, brands such as Starbucks, Microsoft and Target have also shown their support for this. These brands resonate; managing to be ‘at one’ with their consumer segments: a tough thing to achieve in a constantly evolving marketplace. Add to this the new consumer, who is permanently connected to their own world via technology in all forms, and the millennial lifestyle that continues to change longstanding cultural norms.

South Africa is also experiencing a significant cultural revival, with the younger generation showing commitment to embrace disruption while honouring their intrinsic cultural roots.

Gauging consumer sentiment

When it comes to gauging consumer sentiment, brands should consider:

  • the option to rate a product/service at the end of a telephone call
  • examining social media likes and retweets using formal analysis
  • the use of built-in platforms within Google, Twitter and Facebook to track geographic location, profile user segments, and yield qualitative feedback
  • in-depth yet easy-to-complete qualitative digital surveys; and
  • the use of data-driven digital research as part of a deliberate strategy

Clearly, it’s my opinion that authentically resonant brands must maintain permanent research mechanisms. Brand-health trackers should be permanently ‘in field’, as it were, collecting data much more frequently than they did in the past. The technologies to do this are so much more affordable that it’s possible to survey core consumer focus groups on a consistent basis.

What about memes, trends and fads?

When it comes to passing fads, how may marketers tell what has ‘legs’ and what doesn’t? Fads are, by nature, short-lived. Although they may draw a lot of consumer attention and engagement at a particular period in time, we can never tell how long a trend, meme or viral burst will last. (They seldom do.)

For this reason, if you are going to try to leverage a fad or tap into the cultural zeitgeist, speed is essential — though it may be tricky to choose the right moments to keep focused and not be influenced by extremely short-term behaviours. (And it’s equally smart to know when to get out.)

Take Paleo and Atkins diets, for example, which went mainstream in 2014. Many brands developed new recipes and adapted product lines to slot into the Paleo or Atkins obsessions. But there’s now abundant evidence of food fad fatigue, with vegan-lifestyle searches increasing three-fold (+221%), gluten-free searches increasing by 69% and dairy-free gaining in search popularity (91%). These are all longer-term lifestyle choices (source: Huffpost).


It’s beneficial, therefore, to weed out the long-term trends that will prove to be valuable and will deliver business success now and in the future.

I regularly think about Trevor Noah, who — despite being an immigrant to the US — seems able to tap into his audience’s milieu. Indeed, his outsider perspective appears to be an asset to the execs who hired him. “He is a long-term student of our culture. But he looks at it from a different perspective.” said Michele Ganeless, former Comedy Central President, to GQ.

In short, marketing success lies in the ability to distinguish between real trends that may shape a brand’s vision, values, offer, and marketing plan, as opposed to superficial fads. And data is, literally, everything.

See also


Jerry MpufaneJerry Mpufane has executive experience in both ad agency and client organisations, and has only one goal in life, which is to be an inspiring leader. He is currently chairperson of the M&C Saatchi Abel JHB Group of Companies; vice-chair of the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA); a Loerie Awards board member; and a judge for Bookmarks, Loeries and PRISMs. His monthly column on MarkLives, “On My Mind”, focuses upon what it takes to run a great AND sustainable ad agency.

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