The challenge for business today lies less in finding ways to grow and maintain visibility, awareness, or trust in your product or service. But in growing and maintaining relevance in the minds of your audience.
It wasn't that long ago when 'visibility' and 'relevance' were seen as the same thing. If you wanted to sell bottles of your soft drink, you advertised in places where a soft drink audience would see it. You'd make your ad loud, proud, and difficult to ignore; and sales would get a boost as a result. The rules of the game were simple.
Today, if you're doing your marketing basics with any sort of success, your target audience can already find you. Vehicles such as websites, SEO, or social media channels mean that visibility is less of an issue. For most business owners the simply goal of 'visibility' as an end result has given way to developing marketing initiatives that are seen as being relevantto an audience. An audience that's very different to the one of just a few years ago, and continues to evolve in terms of its ambitions and expectations.
Today's consumers are no longer willing to sit on the sidelines, being passive receivers of brand language. They are less willing to accept a product or service based on what (they believe) a brand has decided is 'right' for them. The tools and technology at their disposal has allowed them to become more creative, demanding, and informed than at any time in the past.
Your Brand Communication Is Being Hijacked By Your Consumer
Consumers are not only sceptical and knowledgeable about branding and marketing – they have become creators in their own right. Technology has not only enabled them to become producers, promoters, marketers, and opinion-formers of their own content. It has given them an increasingly-important role in shaping and influencing brands that already exist. Consumers are not only creating content that's seen as being more authentic and relevant. The resulting content is being preferred over that created by the actual brands.
Your communication isn't just being hijacked. It's being held to ransom by the perceived quality of your customer experience. The consumer has assumed the role of Judge, Jury and (in some cases) Executioner.
Looking around, it seems that brands that embrace this new wave of consumer empowerment are the ones that see the greatest return. Companies who are openly acknowledging their customer's aspirations and desires, and even help them achieve them, are developing deeper customer relationships based on the perception of genuine value and authenticity. Positive brand building can also result from the products and the content that brands enable their customers to create. You can see examples today with Lays/Walkers, Lego, or Nintendo.
What does this mean for businesses?
The meaning for businesses of all sizes is two-fold:
A re-evaluation of what a 'consumer' actually is Of course, much depends on what you're selling. But part of the issue may be that businesses are failing to treat their audience as being the creative, intelligent, and ambitious human beings that they are. A more conscious recognition and acceptance of the role that a section of your audience plays can open up completely new creative ideas. These ideas can empower further people to create, or recognize what they're already creating.
Success is dependent on understanding creator ambitions, behavior and emotions. But it's also dependent on understanding the brand, and the role it plays in such a context.
New ways of collaboration Brands need to encourage and develop different ways of collaborating, to maximize the opportunities to engage with creators. How that relationship may look, or work in practice, depends on the stakeholders involved – there is no 'right answer'. The simple action of creating a back-and-forth channel to identify the problems – without getting to the point of proposing solutions – is already a huge advance.
At the same time, businesses can work with both stakeholders and audiences to consider deeper business challenges, and how to address them. The result is a stronger, more fluid, more trusted relationship between a brand and this proactive, loyal, informed – and creative – consumer.