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How consumers are taking a central role in brand stories

Brands around the world face a significant challenge in understanding new consumer behaviours and patterns of thinking, which are rendering many of the techniques people in the marketing and advertising industry relied on in the past obsolete.

Today customers are no longer passive consumers of the goods and services that brands provide – they also want to play a role in shaping the narratives, experiences and even the values of the companies they interact with.

At the same time, breakthroughs in psychology, economics and other academic disciplines are rapidly changing brands’ understanding of consumers by equipping them with new insight into human behaviour. These trends mean that brands need to embrace new patterns, tools and models of communication to remain relevant in their customers’ lives.

Brands want to be invited into the consumers’ space, which means they need to be more engaging. That demands a better understanding of what consumers want and the ability to create a relationship based on an emotional connection and the creation of shared value.

One implication of this shift is that organisations need to look at new ways of modelling and understanding consumer behaviour. That’s why we are seeing so much emphasis on disciplines such as behavioural economics, which is all about understanding the sometimes irrational conscious and unconscious factors that influence consumers on the pathway to making a purchasing decision.

Behavioural economics is one of the major forces changing the world of marketing today by giving us more sophisticated ways of modelling consumer decision-making and behaviour. It’s all about designing choice architectures that follow the patterns of decision-making people in the real world.

By giving us a real-world understanding of how consumers think and act, it helps brands to model irrational human decisions in a predictable way. Behavioural economics is one of the keys to unlocking the brand stories that talk to customers at a deep, human level.

Active engagement

Another important shift in the landscape is the consumer’s expectation for more involvement and interaction from the brands they deal with every day. This is particularly evident in the way that consumers use social media to reach out to brands.

We’re seeing more and more marketing campaigns that include high levels of interactivity and gamification as a result – one example is Ogilvy’s Volkswagen Street Quest campaign. It took the form of a game in which consumers competed to pin the most number of Volkswagen cars they spotted on South Africa’s roads in Google Street View.

Brands continue to make a big effort to become more inclusive and more meaningful in people’s lives. This is reflected in creative work which responds to the consumer’s need to be part of the brand story. A powerful example of this trend is the Toshiba/Intel ‘Beauty Inside’ campaign, where consumers contributed their own footage to the story of Alex, a guy who begins each day with a different physical appearance.

The trend we’re seeing is towards emotional connections between brands and consumers – it’s all about creating a positioning with a purpose. People and their stories, rather than products, are at the heart of today’s most successful brand narratives. An example can be seen in Coca-Cola’s collection of consumer narratives detailing how the brand has touched their lives.

Another related trend is towards brands needing to show and live values of social responsibility. Consumers today care about ethics and sustainability and so brands need to demonstrate these values to forge relationships with their customers. A great example can be seen in the Levi’s campaign to support the rebuilding of the distressed and broken down town of Braddock in Pennsylvania.

This new landscape creates great opportunities for brands to take a more meaningful role in consumers’ lives and create relationships that matter. It is a shift away from the old transactional way of doing business to one where companies can build profitable, mutually beneficial relationships for the long-term.

Image: Pereira & O’Dell

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