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The following article has just been published as part of the NetworkOne annual report:

Why consumers have changed for good

Consumers have changed, the mantra of recent decades, now sounds like a tired cliché. In the current age of widespread mistrust, however, it captures a business reality that marketers must understand and process if they want to take a stand on the issues consumers most care about.

Three key changes drive contemporary consumer behaviours. Firstly, after the years of instant gratification without thought for the future, consumers increasingly aim to secure sustainable and controllable wellbeing for themselves and their families. Secondly, with easy access to increasingly sophisticated information, they have grown their knowledge in every field in the last decade, and factor in more data than ever before when making purchase decisions. Finally, digital transformation has allowed them to grasp the power they have over brands and corporations.

 

New brand expectations

Consumer choices are now guided by a whole new set of expectations that add multiple layers to the traditional brand-consumer relationship based on appeal, price, and quality. The more significant layers include:

  • Health. Personal health, current and future, is crucial to consumers at a time of widespread fears about the impact of almost everything. Naturally, food is a sector where anxiety levels have skyrocketed, accompanied by a boom in the “XYZ-free” market, not to mention organic.
  • Environment. Although protection of the planet is a sensitive issue for most consumers, in tangible terms this concern translates into sharper environmental focus on a local level.
  • Sourcing. Demand for transparency and traceability of ingredients or raw materials is increasing, along with the notion that natural resources should be protected. Recent debates provoked by deforestation attributed to palm oil production or Greenpeace’s war on tuna fishing are perfect examples of how the general public’s awareness of issues can be rapidly mobilised and magnified.
  • Respect. Since consumers have acquired new skills in the analysis of brands and their narratives, they expect more horizontal interaction incorporating signs of respect—such as transparency, ethics, sincerity—for the business value they represent.
  • Purpose. Citizens increasingly want brands to demonstrate purpose in a world where everything must have meaning. Purpose is not about what brands have to offer, it’s about why they are legitimate contributors to the life of the community.

Brands and organisations can no longer ignore this major paradigm shift, now termed Augmented Demand. The good news is, brands that respond to today’s increased expectations garner spectacular consumer gratitude. Recent research worldwide shows that they are far more trusted than the competition.

 

Matching Augmented Demand with Augmented Promise

Tackling this enormous challenge is not easy. Major brands or organisations, including Dove, Nutella, Unilever, Philips, Nestlé, Novartis and L’Oréal, to name but a few, have blazed a trail, with quantifiable success, by demonstrating what resonates most with consumers.

There are many ways to match Augmented Demand with Augmented Promise, but applying the following 5 key principles certainly contributes to success:

  1. Identify a specific CSR angle, build on it, stick to it. To stand out from the crowd, the tried and trusted USP (Unique Selling Proposition) applies here too. It has become obvious that Renault/Nissan’s CSR angle is now about combating air pollution through leading the electric car revolution.
  2. Own choices, however complex, and educate audiences. This is what Nestlé has done with its major brands over the use of palm oil, developing and delivering on an ambitious plan around truly sustainable palm oil.
  3. Highlight social purpose, aligned with brand or corporate identity. Increasingly, pharma companies realise that within the healthcare system, they have a social purpose to showcase that goes far beyond therapeutic innovation. Building on this approach proves effective in corporate brand differentiation.
  4. Open up to stakeholders, create opportunities for dialogue. Ferrero enjoyed considerable success with stakeholders, including NGOs, with a series of events called ‘OpenLab Nutella’. Others have profitably followed Ferrero’s example.
  5. Never forget the brand’s human component. While not all brands can be personified in the same way as Apple, Tesla or Virgin, putting forward the human faces behind the brand is a powerful empathy accelerator.

 

At LinkUp Factory, we believe that brands or companies that follow through on Augmented Promise enable consumers to trust and connect on an emotional level, guaranteeing deeper and more durable relationships.

 

Philippe Raffin is Executive Vice President at The LinkUp Factory.

 

You can download the full report here