If customer obsession was the North Star of 2022, capturing customer loyalty with approaches that are human vs. product led will be essential. With consumers as fatigued as they are from everything from the last few years of the pandemic, to the war in the Ukraine, economic uncertainty and the overall state of societal unrest, there has never been a more critical time for brands to deeply consider the state of customer well-being and lead with increased emotional intelligence wherever possible. With that in mind, following are the Top 4 Insights brands and their leadership need to keep most top of mind as the new year unfolds. Many thanks for the brilliant contributions from: Lauren Boyman, Kurt Kendall, Lee Applbaum, and Edwin Wong.
BRAND PURPOSE ALONE IS NO LONGER ENOUGH.
In perhaps one of the most fractured times in our world’s history, trust is at an all-time low, while societal crises are at an all-time high. As a result, businesses have never had more of a responsibility to step up and evolve the notion of brand purpose from the effortlessly elegant 1:1 model invented by the Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes of the world, into something more meaningful that connects a business and its bottom-line more closely to measurable impact.
Enter the new age of stakeholder capitalism. This idea has received much attention and support, along with some skepticism, after Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune Media, released his book Tomorrow’s Capitalist. Drawing from hundreds of conversations with other CEOs, he delves into stakeholder capitalism, which he defines as a “major change in corporate ideology” in which CEOS and the companies they lead have expanded their worldview. According to the book, many CEOs are aiming to lead in ways that benefit not just their shareholders, but society. The recent actions of the Patagonia Founder giving the entire company to a purpose trust with a singular vision to fight climate change makes this movement feel like a concrete reality.
Organizations will need to accept and act upon this new thinking in one way or another, particularly as they not only work to conduct business as usual in an extremely uncertain economic environment, but also amidst other countless challenges ranging from brand inclusivity, to DEI, to the future of work, reimagined employee experience and commitments to key issues such as climate change, BLM, emerging cultural and gender identification issues, etc. The list is endless and unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. As such, C-Suites must effectively align to benefit not just shareholders and profits, but all stakeholders and society overall, if their organizations are not only to succeed but lead.
“Corporate boards and C-suite executives that are advancing their commitment to purpose-driven leadership are thinking through the broader impacts their decisions and actions have on society and stakeholders. They’re realizing the opportunity to make a difference, lead societal change, and create long-term value.” Lauren Boyman, KPMG US Chief Marketing Officer
MAKE HUMAN-LED EXPERIENCES A THING.
To succeed in a new world order driven by DTC brand mindsets and subscription oriented CX frameworks, brands will need to work to understand how customers are feeling as quickly as possible, if they expect increased loyalty in a world currently driven by convenience and economic uncertainty. The impending recession is going to have a massive emotional toll on people and brands must be armed and ready with empathy. To do so will require using emotion as a currency that can break down the internal data silos that often exist by function and role to unearth new means and mechanisms for sharing data to paint the most holistic and accurate profiles of customers. Leading organizations will need to collaborate across the aisle, such as within the CEO, CMO and CIO functions, to build the new data stacks and brand experience ecosystems that fulfill the promise of human-led customer understanding. The promise of value delivery at scale can only happen when brands are able to generate individualized experiences that show they understand the customer in ways that matter most to them.
How? Brands must incorporate additive data sources to generate loyalty and acquire new customers. By using additional lenses on top of zero and first party data, brands can drive improved contextualization to bring personalization to scale. Brands must also quickly understand that old definitions of brand loyalty no longer work. Today brand loyalty is all about meaningful value delivery that leads to trust-based relationships built to endure.
“Human-centric experience design that considers both the rational and emotional context of consumers is a hallmark of leading brands. The separation between the brands that continue to get this right from those that do not will grow even greater as consumers face the generational defining challenge of punishing inflation and stagnate economic growth. Brands that do not have strong emotional connections with their consumers will be left behind.” Kurt Kendall, Chief Analytics Officer, Publishers Clearing House
DEMOCRATIZED TRANSFORMATION. INSIGHTS THAT EMPOWER.
I said the following in our insights outlook last year and its meaning has only intensified over the past 12 months: “There has been much talk about the democratization of insights and that is because they have never been as important, not only to a company’s institutional knowledge base, but to driving market capitalization.” This idea is not only still relevant but has evolved to be even more powerful as the notion of democratized transformation has taken shape. As introduced in an article in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year, the concept of empowering employees with insights that improve their ability to make better business decisions that lead to better experiences for customers and business outcomes overall, is one that will likely only continue to gain traction. The article focused specifically on how Novartis has used this type of thinking to dramatically improve the pace of their innovation while accelerating organizational transformation efforts.
To successfully build a dynamic insights function that aligns with organizational transformation, line of sight into each customer segment, at every stage of the customer journey, is required. Brands will need to create their own Insights Operating Platforms as we call them at BRANDthrō, to up-level that type of thinking and find strategic ways of putting insight into action across the enterprise.
“Consumer insights have traditionally been ‘reserved’ exclusively for marketers, and more selectively used in the boardroom, but the reality is that a culture that puts the customer at the center should syndicate and inculcate insights across every function and at all levels of the organization. While the marketing organization can help shepherd these insights— helping the organization to better understand the data and learnings— ultimately the entire enterprise should have access to inform and guide decision-making.” Lee Applbaum, CMO, Wheels Up
FLIP MASLOW’S HIERARCHY ON ITS HEAD.
Emotional plurality — occupying multiple emotional states simultaneously due to an ever-changing and increasingly complicated world — is one of the more prevalent feelings many consumers are dealing with today. In today’s age of digital distractions, a catchy ad and a sleek logo are no longer enough to pique the interest of modern consumers. Add to that the disruptions caused by the pandemic and a host of other national and global crises, and you have a situation where the most seasoned and agile brands are asking, “How do we stay relevant in this unprecedented global crisis?”
Evolving from customer-centric to human-centric is the answer and will come from proactive systems that allow for precise means of understanding how people are feeling and feeding those insights directly into the brand experience ecosystem, vs. relying on the more reactive needs-led models of the past. It was once thought to be a given that thought proceeds emotion, but that is no longer always the case, particularly in an environment that has left us emotionally raw and in need of more empathy than ever before. Using this new type of thinking can improve the chances of boosting customer trust and brand recall, while forging stronger relationships. More effectively tapping into the emotions of customers can also build customer trust more efficiently.
Creating authentic brand connections has never been more important as a result and leading with the notion of emotion as currency is one of the fastest pathways to doing so. Nearly all consumers today view authenticity as a huge factor in purchasing decisions. Therefore, realizing the promise of bringing scientifically precise emotional intelligence that can identify things like authentic feeling into the strategy stage of brand and campaign development has never been more important. While more traditional viewpoints and tools, such as seeing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it was intended or relying on less precise means of understanding consumer feeling, such as sentiment analysis in the customer feedback loop, are still be important, having the temerity and vision to explore emotion in new and innovative ways will be essential to brand success in 2023 and beyond.
“The result of Covid, chaos, and change have actually made authenticity and emotion as foundational as base functional needs. Brands can no longer afford to just deliver the basics. We need to fundamentally flip the script and start to look at measures in the context of the consumer and not the brand. It’s about brand access, brand openness, and brand innovation. We need to answer the question: “Does the brand include me, love me, and will it evolve over time to meet my needs?‘” Edwin Wong, SVP Insights + Innovation, Vox Media
To learn more about how to create your own Insights OS to best navigate these trends, click here.