Customers Don’t Want to Be Marketed to—and That’s Great

The consumer has spoken, and he’s tired of feeling bombarded, overwhelmed, and even tricked into engaging with our brands. Very simply, he’s tired of being marketed to. And that’s a good thing.

What consumers want today is a two-way conversation and a meaningful, relevant journey from Point A—where their unfulfilled wants, needs, hopes, and dreams are sitting—to Point B, the fulfillment of those unmet objectives. All too often, marketers create prepackaged experiences dictating how our consumers’ real-time journeys should look and how they’ll pivot based on the decisions they make within our branded platforms. But that’s part of the problem—we shouldn’t know precisely what these individual experiences are going to look like until the consumer is actively engaging in them. Brandon, a dad and car enthusiast from California, shouldn’t get handed the “California dad who loves cars” experience from the second he enters the site until the moment he leaves.

That’s what consumers mean when they say they don’t want to be marketed to. They don’t want those predetermined experiences served up in the name of optimization. Marketing needs to evolve beyond that. At the most basic level, consumer interests and desires can—and do—change on a whim. Haven’t you fallen down the great rabbit hole of social media, a favorite e-commerce site, or a content platform go-to? It’s an incredibly simple example, sure, but it also drives my point home. You started with this objective—or lack thereof—and wound up here. Ignoring this shift and instead attempting to right the ship and get the customer back where you’re expecting him to be—and, likewise, where your marketing expects him to be—leads to disconnect and, worse, discontent.

But back to the larger issue here. Whether they stay the course or fall down that rabbit hole, your customers are telling you what they want, all the time, and we have to be better about listening and responding accordingly. With every movement through your branded experiences—and even across social media and third-party sites—they’re providing rich signals and signs that, when used to fuel self-learning algorithms and automated personalization platforms, have infinite possibilities. Layer-in multiple assets designed to speak to the unique, real-time objectives of these users, and you’re golden.

So what should you do? Collaborate and converse. Consumers may not want to be marketed to, but they’re still open to having the conversation, to engaging in branded experiences, and most importantly, to collaborating with brands, so long as they can derive real value as a result. And that’s powerful—I’d argue even more powerful than any opportunity that exists through traditional marketing channels.

This shift toward collaboration is a critical one, and it will change the way we connect with consumers across all platforms. “Collaborative marketing will mean that marketers truly shift from marketing ‘at’ consumers,” writes Fast Company_, “_to marketing ‘with’ consumers.” To do this, they argue, we need to democratize, maintain close relationships, and encourage influence over straight-up impressions. I couldn’t agree more.

And this isn’t an overnight thing. Back in 2010, nine in 10 CEOs said getting closer to customers was their number-one priority over the next five years. Fast-forward five years, and we’re here in the up-close-and-personal era of consumer-centric digital marketing. “Consumers want, and expect, to be heard,” confirms Digiday, which wasn’t built into the DNA of traditional advertising and marketing best practices. Then social entered the picture and really blew the lid off—everything became a two-way dialogue with ample opportunities to share and socialize virtually anything, peer-to-peer, brand-to-consumer, and even consumer-to-brand.

Pull that intimate social data into existing personalization capabilities, Big Data stores, and foundational knowledge, and the path toward building individualized customer experiences becomes even clearer. Add Adobe Marketing Cloud to the mix, and there’s no excuse not to make the leap toward collaboration, conversation, and connectivity—and kick those prepackaged “personalized” experiences to the curb. Let the machine connect the dots, and help push your organization away from marketing and toward a more meaningful, relevant consumer experience.

Consumers don’t want to be marketed to, and I think that’s great. I don’t want to market to them, either. I want to create personalized, long-term experiences and relationships born of collaboration and connection. Because that’s what keeps consumers coming back, and that’s what drives the powerful word-of-mouth marketing and advocacy no amount of budget, strategy, or promotional outreach can buy. You can, you should, and you must start thinking about these individualized, real-time experience evolutions that don’t market to the consumer but instead power their journeys through your branded platforms. Because that’s what he wants—and that’s the kind of immersive experience that drives unwavering success.