Why Being Personal Gives Consumers A Reason To Come Back

Brands should create personal experiences for consumers and put them in a position of control, according to Meabh Quoirin, managing director of London-based consultancy Future Foundation.

Why Being Personal Gives Consumers A Reason To Come Back

The future will not be personalised; it will be personal. It will not be about user-generated content but about ego-driven content—content that will help consumers present the best possible version of themselves online. It will see consumers demanding firms blur the lines between their competitors and their collaborators to deliver what they want. And it will see those consumers placing more value on brands that act as a predictive concierge, anticipating what they need before they even know they need it.

These were the four revolutions predicted by Future Foundation MD Meabh Quoirin at The Marketing Society’s annual conference last autumn.

Future Foundation is an independent global consumer trends and insight firm based in London, with offices in New York and Stockholm. Quoirin’s predictions were based on the organisation’s research for the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising into four future scenarios by 2025. Speaking to her after her session, I asked how marketers can prepare for the revolutions she predicts.

Quoirin: All the paths lead to brands curating a very personal relationship with the consumer, one that has a sense of human involvement but is more likely to take place through the medium of artificial intelligence and scaled conversation than it is to reach anybody at an actual individual level.

Brands are already experimenting with complex technologies like the Amelia example [an AI developed by IPsoft capable of showing human traits and expected to be in service by 2025] or Amazon Echo’s Alexa, but already you can start doing this without getting into the high-tech, high-scale piece, just by acknowledging your consumer and showing you know what it is they’re doing.

Brands are already pushing out a great number of messages to their consumers through different channels. If we look at social at the moment, that is a very branded experience, led by the brand agenda. What strikes me is that occasionally a brand like Dove will take consumer stories and say “talk to us about who you really are and we’ll elevate that” but it all feels contrived. It doesn’t feel like this is what’s happening in real time, this is how consumers are expressing themselves in real time.

Twitter illustrates how consumers are actually telling us how they feel about a staggering amount of stuff. The clues to how they feel and what they’re interacting with are becoming easier to read. The way to go is trying to create a level of empathy by placing the consumer stories first and your brand underneath.

CMO.com: What are the approaches brands are taking to this right now?

Quoirin: Some people will do that by following as many of their key customers as possible across social channels. Some people will do it simply by acknowledging every time a consumer does something good.

The obvious example of that is Uber, where essentially, instead of asking the consumer to rate you, you do it the other way around. “We believe that your experience was three-star, four-star, we could have done better, you could have done better.” Whatever it is, acknowledge the experience from the customer perspective, and give them either a reason to enjoy it, or to talk about it, or a reason to come back.

So while the idea of rewarding people, of being a concierge, of servicing people, is not new, right now if we want to keep up, it has to be real time, and it has to be public. It can’t just be you as a brand in your own world, or you and your loyalty card. It has to be in a place where the consumer can talk about it.

Consumers want to stay in control, and the brand’s job is to make them feel like they own the space, even if the brand’s doing all the legwork.

CMO.com: To what extent can you do that at scale, and how does that deliver ROI? How do you explain to your board that this is a route to making money, when it just looks like sink for funds?

Quoirin: There are different routes to selling it. Consumers’ expectation that service comes for free is just the world that we now live in. So there’s a baseline of expectations and, if you don’t meet them, you’re out of the picture. That’s one way to justify it.

Looking at scale, you only need to equip consumers with the language—they need to go and do this for themselves. If you provide a network of services for people, just simply tell them about what they’ve gained each time. It’s no more work or expense than what you’re doing already in terms of understanding how well you’re doing on customer service. It’s just a simple change of mindset.

If you want to get your message out through the voice of the consumer at scale, then arguably it’s difficult to think about social in terms of ROI. But if you look at picking the right network, picking the right demographic, and giving them something genuinely unique, it’s going to pay for itself.

Thinking about that in slightly different terms, we’ve done some work around the role of empathy and emotion and what they’re worth to a brand. We’ve shown that the stronger the level of empathy and the deeper the emotional connection, the far greater the likelihood is that the consumer will look for more information about your brand, purchase your brand, and arguably more importantly, share whatever it is about your brand. Shareability is probably the biggest indicator that you’re looking for and you can absolutely see that emotional intensity drives share.

So if you talk about something that is emotional and deeply personal to the consumer, even if it’s not an emotional topic, and you understand how they want to talk about it, then you’ll create a reason for them to talk about themselves and to talk about you.

Unfortunately, unless you make that leap of faith, and allow the consumer to take control, it’s going to be a struggle. But if you do take the leap, you’ll spend the same amount of money as you would have done on building a beautiful campaign, but you’ll give consumers the means to talk about it in their own emotional terms.

CMO.com: Anthony Thomson of Metro Bank—and now Atom Bank—says the secret of Metro is that their most engaged customers are the ones who self-serve. Is that the sort of thing you’re talking about? You give people the language and tools to do things themselves, and they go away and do it, and feel good about the transaction.

Quoirin: Completely. Irrespective of whether your consumers are engaged by what you do or not, the reality is they’re going to go it alone in as many instances as they can.

Our lives are run by the apps that support us, so there’s simply no excuse for not being in control of our lives. And where once control was seen as being a control-freak, now it’s chic and aspirational: “I’m in control, I should be in control, I want everybody to see I’m optimising my life.”

Of all the aspirations consumers have today, that is probably the most important. You have to put consumers in a position of controlling your brand, and hope they’re engaged enough to help that run. Inevitably, just by acknowledging them, your best consumers will do a lot of the talking for you.

CMO.com: And that plays into the idea of ego-driven content that you talked about? Quoirin: Only one of the revolutions was specifically about the ego, but in a way they all are. Why, for example, do we want personal over personalised? You could argue that’s just semantics, but it’s not. Personalised is just functional. It exists through big data usage, but it almost feels like the antidote to the concierge society we’ve come to love.

For consumers, it’s all about me, and if you look at their expectation, it’s that everyone will collaborate so that whatever their heart desires, it’s only one click away. They don’t care about your brand; all they care about is that you know who to partner with to make their access to you faster, better, cheaper, totally optimised.

In the same way, our desire for apps to make predictions is about control. We don’t care how clever a brand is with their technology, we just care that they’ve thought enough about what they need to do to help me learn so that I can be the best version of myself. So all routes lead to the consumer first.