Seducing the new consumer

Monday, 27 October 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

If you were in the audience of the 2014 Billboard awards earlier this year, and the compere began introducing Michael Jackson to come on stage to sing his newest song ‘Slave to the rhythm,’ you would have been excused if you thought it was all one big joke. But, to the awe of the audience, Michael Jackson did appear and he did dance and sing his song – thanks to the wonder of hologram technology. If we can bring back the dead, albeit through virtual reality, then we are living in an era where our only limitation is that of our imagination. The world has moved so rapidly from the industrial age to the information age to beyond the age of intelligence and now to the age of imagination, that the challenge for marketers can indeed be bewildering. That’s because consumers are constantly on the look-out for products and services that interest and enhance them in some form or another. With an enormous array of choices, there is someone out there, who can offer a superior product at the price they are seeking. Consumers are less loyal and if they don’t find your product or service of much interest, then they will move on, in their constant search for excellence, stimulation and indulgence. This is a huge challenge for businesses, but it is also an opportunity to those who are able to tap into these extraordinary aspirations, to succeed in the long term. There are many progressive global and Sri Lankan companies who are getting closer to consumers by seducing them. They are the ones who are evolving ahead of the competition and inspiring consumers. So, whether a product or service company, or even those that do not directly market to consumers but do so to an intermediary business who would be a customer, (the so called business to business companies – B to B for short);here are four initiatives which could possibly be taken on board, as solutions to reinvigorate that engagement. A screen grab of Michael Jackson performing at Billboards 2014 Awards   Reimagine your product At the product level, businesses can tap into a wide array of still underutilised tools. These could be used to establish a competitive advantage through unique innovations in product development, collaborations with scientists or technologists, international partnerships, ideas from other industries or exploration through one’s own research and development. Progressive businesses (Dialog, Hayleys, Lankem, Brandix, MAS, Loadstar) have already begun this journey, as seen in their commitment towards the recently set up SLINTEC (nanotechnology) initiative. This is still only a miniscule initiative amongst the vast array of opportunities that exist. This approach results in creating relevant proprietary capabilities which are unique. Even service organisations need to go down this path, by establishing relevant global benchmarks, and really fine tuning all of the key consumer touch points by institutionalising systems and processes that deliver excellence and continuously refine it as part of delivering their brand promise. The challenge is to be able to reach beyond the mundane logical extensions to provide new innovations that magically transforms your service offering, and then institutionalising them. It could be a service standard say in a small 2 star hotel akin to that of an Aman resort, inspired solutions that Brandix offers its global customers, a new mouth feel for a chocolate, packaging innovation to unwrap it, or the marketing of tea like the French do their wines which Dilmah is embarking on. The single minded objective is to go beyond functionality, such as an MP3 player, and convert that into a joyous experience through an Apple iPod. This approach of producing magically new products and service experiences is all about reimagination, not necessarily about inventing. As Apple has shown, they have taken existing products and reimagined them, having rethought what those products are expected to deliver from a phone, to pads, to pods to watches! Success can come from anywhere … big company or small, emerging nation or developed, young marketers or experienced leaders, limitless budgets or almost none. It’s not about what you are, it’s all about how you think   Use design Design is what Apple excels in, and they have unleashed this with tremendous power in the development of all their products, including the latest Apple Watch. They are all runaway successes purely because people like the touch and feel of them, all based on design. If you have ever bought an iPad and opened it for the very first time, you will understand what I mean. It truly is a fantastic experience, simple and ready to go. No instruction manuals, no charging required, no bulky and unnecessary packing that is binned the moment you open it; just fully loaded and set up, waiting for you to configure it. Design can be used to inspire across all aspects of the business, whether it be a factory design (like that of Brandix, MAS and Hirdramani’s green plants) or office designs (like the Brandix world class facility at Ratmalana). Design needs to be strategic from the outset. For it to have a major impact, it can’t be an afterthought or have superficial trappings to be put on post production. Integrate design early in the process to drive innovation and create solutions. Hence, when creating a new biscuit for example, isn’t this a great opportunity to get a designer involved rather than leave it in the hands of an engineer. How can we present in a way that it will convey all that the biscuit is expected to deliver – taste, convenience, nutrition and sustainability? It’s not all about being different; it’s all about being better and Spa Ceylon is a great example of that. Being a late entrant into the market, they have successfully captured the high ground primarily through design and product innovation. The detail of the design of their products, packaging, merchandising and retail stores is quite outstanding. Design can be used to continually reinvent the brand. There is a need to break the mould of sameness and monotony and design is a great way to do that. It needs to be done creatively so as to still reassure customers that it is the same genuine product. Brands need to be much more flexible and fluid in the new world, and a good example of that is Google. They morph their logo for special occasions. Constant change is a big part of who they are, which is a great point of differentiation in this particular instance.   Create a compelling brand Brands are considered fundamental for marketing products and services, but less so for companies involved in marketing to other businesses. However, there are many such B to B companies that have succeeded in building a brand. Whether they be contract manufacturers, such as Brandix or MAS who have created a corporate brand, or even packaging specialists such as Printcare who are innovating for their global tea brand customers, the importance of their branded business is clear to them. For products and service companies brand building is a given. However, the understanding of a brand and what it actually means is still extraordinarily poor. I throw a challenge to those products and services who believe they truly have a brand, by asking a simple question: if you believe you have a strong brand, then can you simply define that brand? You will be amazed at the number who are unable to coherently articulate what their brand is about, not in generic terms of being special, quality conscious and trust worthy, but in more unique and proprietary terms. Note to those who are trying: your pay off line or advertising theme is NOT your brand! The next issue to grapple after that is how to present your brand to the multitude of stakeholders who you now have to bear in mind, besides the various customer segments. There is no better way around this complexity than to tell a story. Story telling provides a clear aid to memory, as it establishes a way by which consumers can make a connection within the complex world that they live in. This is more so today, with the thousands of brand offerings, discounts, incentives and promotions that bombard us throughout the day. The only way to break out of this, is not by increasing your advertising spend. The challenge is to make your brand more compelling, and what better way to do that, than to tell a story! Story telling is the way in which we teach our children about what is good and bad, about this world. By going back to our roots of learning and telling a brand story you are more likely to engage with your customers. Add to that, fascinating and compelling characters which are associated with your brand, and you begin to establish a compelling connection or bond. The story also has an advantage as it strengthens your corporate behaviour, thereby ensuring your customers know what to expect from you, because they truly know who you are. This is a powerful engagement mechanism because the customer has made up the complete story in his or her head with specific expectations. People naturally connect and identify with a believable and consistent brand persona – one whose words and actions are well matched. This is the power of Merryl Fernando and the Dilmah brand. With the future in mind, and in order to ensure continuity of this particular story, the brand has very skilfully brought in the next generation of the family to continue its brand journey. The need to have a living spokesperson is key for this particular brand. While a persona can live and breathe within a variety of different stories, it must remain stable so that consumers can come to know it and appreciate its underlying consistencies and strengths. This is what Dilmah is setting itself up as it transitions from one generation to the next. Whilst outward changes are inevitable, the brand can still retain a stable core persona of the ‘Ceylon tea expert’. Having an individual is not mandatory to create a brand story. Spa Ceylon is an example of how a story around an ancient system of healing, revolving around the balance of life, can be taken into the contemporary busy world, and offer a momentary break of peace – they call it indulgence. The brand is so wedded in this belief that its entire retail experience is carefully orchestrated around the sensory touch points of – touch, sound, smell, sight and taste to provide a holistic brand experience.   Bring meaning to people’s lives With the inundation of messages, promotions and offers, consumers switch off or are sceptical of most advertising campaigns. The only way around this is to build a genuine relationship with customers. A genuine relationship means you have to be a “good” person in a holistic sense. And if you are perceived to be good, then you are more likely than not be able to bring meaning to the lives of your customers. This is because you understand and because you truly care. Customers are constantly seeking meaningful relationships be it with their friends or relatives and there is no difference with the purchases they make on a daily basis. There is an opportunity to establish a deep seated emotional bond by bringing meaning into people’s lives. So, if you genuinely care, then you are a good corporate citizen, who pays taxes on the due dates, avoids polluting the environment, takes care of your employees and produces long lasting durable products to customers with excellent after sales service and guarantees. However, the real challenge is to go beyond that and to actually touch customers’ hearts and minds. This can only be done through a search for the meaning of goodness. This is not referring to the so called philanthropic projects that nearly every single company does under the guise of corporate social responsibility (CSR), but these are initiatives that are part of the entire fabric of the business itself. The way to do so is to think about the business through the eyes of sustainability. Just by taking wasteful things and seeing how we can reduce them or turn it into something else, which could be useful, is a positive mind set of doing good. It’s a way of thinking about how we can reconfigure ourselves to encourage our customers themselves to change and to do good themselves. This is done by making ‘doing good’ more fun, interesting and encouraging. This is the true power that brands need to harness, thereby engaging with customers in developing a meaningful and long term relationship. A good example is the entire business model of Embark, which is based on products around animals which has universal consumer appeal, and which is intrinsically linked with a social problem around stray dogs. By linking the economic and social factors together there is a powerful business which mobilises customers to actually be part of the solution. This builds immense empathy. These then are a few of the initiatives available to all types of companies to think about, as they reset their minds on new ways of seducing their customers. Not just for products, but this is especially important for service and B to B companies who are less conscious about the value that they can add by rethinking the way they engage with them. Success can come from anywhere … big company or small, emerging nation or developed, young marketers or experienced leaders, limitless budgets or almost none. It’s not about what you are, it’s all about how you think. (Ruchi Gunewardene is the Managing Director of Brand Finance Lanka and STING Consultants, which are brand valuation and strategic marketing consultancy firms. He can be contacted on [email protected])