Time to put the human at the center of business strategy.
At first this is likely to sound intuitive: food brands and retailers should put the consumer at the center of their business model, marketing and operations. But in reality it is an exception and not the rule. Far too many organizations continue to put themselves – their know-how and technologies and yes, their bottom line objectives – ahead of the consumers they wish to serve.
The truly human-centric business honors the integration of consumer insight, empathy and understanding above all other priorities. This allows that knowledge to filter through every aspect of how the company operates and makes decisions.
The empowered consumer
This only makes sense when you truly appreciate the power people wield. The consumer is in charge of the brand relationship. We may wish to believe we’re in control but that’s no longer the case. As such, alignment and relevance with consumers’ needs, wants and ambitions or concerns are paramount to achieving preference, engagement and conversion.
Further, all decisions related to operations and product development as well as merchandising or experience should be made with a laser-like focus – on the consumers with whom we hope to cultivate relationships.
Here’s what we know:
- Consumers do not make rational decisions on what products or stores they prefer. This, instead, is always a heart before head proposition.
- Purchases are largely symbolic expressions of how people want the world to perceive them and what they wish to project about their values and interests. Yes price matters but when operating beyond commodity status, price isn’t as powerful a tool as it once was.
- Consumers buy experiences that align with their beliefs and shared values first. Other considerations fall behind these cultural priorities.
Forrester Research recently released a study, “The Rise of the Empowered Consumer” that identifies five ways in which consumer behavior has changed. We offer some thoughts on the implications – as in what they’ll do next.
1. Super acceleration of trial and adoption
The digital revolution has essentially blown up the barriers and resistance to experimenting with new products and experiences. Consumers are now active participants in marketplace innovations. The adoption curve has sped up in part because of easy, hand-held access to a treasure trove of information and the validation of respected experts and influencers early in the life cycle of new products and categories.
Implication: constant innovation and reevaluation is necessary to stay with or ahead of this curve. “New” is a good thing and the move to trial early is real and active. Influence and validation are critical in the early stages to earn credibility and gain trust.
2. Screen dominance
Digital devices are proliferating at five times the rate of global population growth. In October of 2014 a milestone was reached: the number of screens on earth surpassed the number of people. The daily average use of mobile phones from 2013 to 2015 has grown to more than two hours a day.
Implication: pervasive device use will further empower consumers and put additional pressure on the perceived value proposition and relevance of brand created content. It’s vital to curate and create content that offers more help than hype.
3. Integration of digital and physical experiences
The distance between digital and brick and mortar experience is shrinking and is becoming ‘seamlessly integrated’ according to Forrester. The evidence: 17% of online adults use their mobile phone to download additional product information while walking the aisles of a store. Mobile can no longer be seen as a separate experience. It is now integral to Zero Moment of Truth shopping behaviors.
Implication: what tools are retailers using to help consumers visualize how products and services can be used at home as a part of their lifestyles? Are you organizing web assets to help guide their real-time need for information?
4. Knowledge is power
Media use has gone way past the saturation point – people are consuming content heavily across all platforms. Like anything, with more experience and time in the digital saddle, people are getting savvier about navigating, evaluating and discerning the value of information they see. Forty-two percent read peer reviews before making a purchase decision.
Implication: overt marketing efforts that attempt to masquerade as unbiased reporting through paid content channels may decline in effectiveness – the bloom may be coming off this media rose.
5. Captain in the wheelhouse
Consumers are driven and enabled by technology to gain attention and activate a desire to be seen as unique. Their goal is to project what they want the world to believe about them. They are now fully in the wheelhouse and in control; looking for more personalized, rich and emotionally-satisfying experiences. And social channel engagement has made them hyper aware of how others perceive and treat them. You could call it “selfie culture” – digital services and resources are allowing people to self-manage their experiences.
Implication: brands and businesses can be enablers, supporters of these behaviors. A source of inspiration and guidance – provided your values align with theirs. And you must have a valid belief system that matches theirs. Posers not allowed. Further, posers who brave it anyway, run the risk of feeling the wrath of social media justice served virally.
Core strategy: improving the life of the consumer
As former marketing author and legend Gordon Leavitt once put it, “The purpose of business is to get and keep a customer.” And thus, all facets of the business are engaged in this endeavor. Given the sea change in behavior and marketplace dynamics, it just makes sense to put the consumer at the center of business strategy.
The ‘humanizing’ of the organization through this process, allows new thinking to emerge that is rooted in relevance to the interests and concerns of those to whom we wish to sell. It has to start at the top, and it’s important that every level and function within the organization not only embraces this concept but are empowered by it.
The only way this will work successfully begins with an unwavering commitment to securing insights about what people want, how they live and what they care about. Translating that into business strategy and communications is what we do at Emergent.
We have entered a more enlightened era where respect for the customer’s wishes and beliefs becomes the driver of sustainable growth.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.