In the past 12 months I have seen a lot of people in advertising start to talk about the need for brands to open up and start to build relationships:
“We can hypothesize that perhaps the key to brands succeeding in this new world is to mimic a human relationship as closely as possible with consumers”
[Edelman's new "brandshare" model]
“As companies become more digital and equipped with advanced marketing analytic tools that allow them to know and predict consumers’ behavior even better than consumers themselves, they need to be more human as well. It’s time to shift the paradigm. Brands need to not only connect directly with their fans but also rethink the concept of brand ownership. Brands can be owned by both the company and the community of customers, fans, and followers that rallies around them.”
[John Windsor of Havas & crowdsourcing agency Victor & Spoils, writing in Harvard Business Review]
And Clay Shirky was talking about “humanising brands” as far back as 2008.
What’s this all about? It’s recognising a need for brands to build a dialogue with customers, listening as much as talking – and talking one-to-one as well as broadcasting. It’s about recognising that in the digital landscape, consumers aren’t just “little people” but can be peers and influence leaders – and so brands need to earn the respect of powerful brand evangelists who will shout from a mountain top how wonderful you and your brand really are.
But how do you do this? The journey of humanising brands goes beyond social media tactics and good community management. No – at FACE, we’d argue that brands needs to fundamentally change their behaviour and really put the customer at the heart of what they do.
Nicola Green, Director of communications and reputation at O2, expresses this well:
“I truly believe that brands should treat their social-media conversations like their real-world conversations – it’s all about understanding your audience, engaging with them in a human way and being consistent. Take the time to get to know your social community and build a rapport; you’ll learn what resonates with them and where the lines are in the sand. You’ll also learn what your audience expects from you – which, more often than not, can be swift customer service when something goes wrong.”
[Source: Marketing Magazine]
In 2014 I believe we are going to see more forward thinking companies adopt the strategy of humanising their brands in 3 key areas. This will open up big opportunities for the market research industry:
1. Develop a ‘listen first’ culture
Brands will demonstrate an authentic desire to listen and respond to people’s needs in real time by rolling out social listening solutions across customer service, research, marketing, product, operations, and HR. This type of active listening is the foundation of building meaningful relationships.
Brands need an objective market research partner to help develop select vendors and set the key benchmarks and metrics that will underpin the listening programme. They also need help to interpret the huge amounts of qualitative data they will be generating to support stakeholders across the business with faster decision making.
Yes, we said qualitative data. This is the value that market research can offer above the typical technology-led, dashboard-based social listening solutions that lead the market at present. It’s about going beyond volume and sentiment, and focusing on people and their needs.
In 2014 we’ll see an increasing use of co-creation with customers and external experts. This will be carried out by R&D and marketing/products teams, and to develop both new product innovations and communications. This gives people more personalised experiences that can create a stronger bond between the individual and the brand.
To run strategic co-creation programmes requires world class facilitation and moderation skills to manage interactions between large groups of internal and external partners. Arguably the more important role market research can play here is as the architect of these type of initiatives who ultimately can navigate objectively the politics of companies, and deliver outputs that meet the brief.
3. Agile Communications
All good brands are now publishers, producing content across a huge number of touchpoints. And they’re learning that brand conversations, meanings and needs evolve very quickly. To maximise the opportunity that real time communication offers, companies will be busy building agile CRM & publishing teams who will be responsible for engaging people with relevant information and high quality, timely content that will delight customers.
To support this type of comms team requires continual input from consumers in the creative process to establish what’s relevant, what’s perceived as high quality, and what’s most interesting and shareable. This means that market research can play a role if the research is fast enough. Creative development needs to become more agile – and in 2014 we’ll see this roll out further. New models for content creation are starting to emerge where consumer communities are being consulted in realtime as an extension of the marketing team to ensure that what is being published will hit the mark.
We’ll no doubt be blogging more about each of these themes in 2014!
Meanwhile, for more about how humanising brands will open up new opportunities for research take a look at these recent articles from across the FACE team:
Building a listening programme:
- Francesco D’Orazio, CIO and Pulsar creator: The Future of Social Media Research
- Job Muscroft, UK MD: 3 new use cases for social data in research
- Riki Neill, UK associate director: Bridging the gap: client-consumer collaboration in online research communities
On agile communictions:
- Kate Davids, US research analyst: Cheaper, Faster, and More Markets: Transforming Concept Evaluation
- Jess Owens, UK research manager: How To Handle A Social Media Crisis