April 17, 2013

Consumerism and Advertising: Building Brands as Products, not Commodities

The original Article was written for Social Samosa 
Consumerism is increasing day by day especially when it comes to mass marketing and advertising being shoved down consumers’ throats. It isn’t any different on social media either. As a marketer, it is important to introspect if your consumers are really listening to what your communication is, or if they have become zombies brainwashed to buy your product. Do they rely solely on brand recall without having knowledge of or believing in what they are purchasing? Market trends keep shifting and a brand that has strong recall today can be history tomorrow.
So, the real question is how do social media marketers or advertisers communicate with and engage consumers without really having to generate the hype of consumerism around them?
I’ve always believed that communication is always about the consumer, whether in social media or in mainline communication. Making the product stand out in your communication is more relevant than just influencing the consumer or key influencers surrounding him. The communication should not only seek to break the clutter but should also make fundamental sense.
A very good example of this is L&T Insurance’s ‘Likh Ke Doge Kya?’ campaign. I had the opportunity to listen to Ms. Deepali Nair of L&T Insurance speak at the Computer Society of India IT 2020 Conference, about how they worked backwards on the entire campaign, tailored it to suit Facebook first and then ran it on television. It was an interesting campaign and very successful too.
It wasn’t about what consumers want, but what consumers aren’t really asking for. In hindsight, I am sure that, ‘Likh ke doge kya?’ is a question they always ask insurance providers. It also takes a look at how fallible the whole insurance business is, especially when it comes to claims, terms and conditions and queries. In this case, it wasn’t about shoving another insurance product that no one knows about down the consumer’s throat, but about making a firm commitment that queries would be responded to within X amount of time, and they would give it in writing. What stood out in the campaign was the promise of execution – exercising ownership and being accountable.
So, what should we, as marketers, be doing?
Research what consumers don’t know
Keep doing your research. Don’t stop doing that at all. But change the way you do it. It is about time we started looking beyond what the consumer is telling us and try to gauge insights by reading between the lines – what the consumer is thinking but not saying.

Of course there will be rants, cribbing and negative sentiments on social media. Invest time in resolving those. But don’t miss out on what the consumer isn’t telling you. And yes, by all means, classify your consumers based on demographics, but don’t obsess over the behaviour and decision-making of your target group. Yes, consumers may not know what they want, but you do. It is all about thinking backwards.

Don’t listen to what they’re saying. Listen to what they aren’t telling you.
When it comes to social media, ORM has always been the tool to listen to what the consumers have to say about brands and what consumers have an opinion about. But it doesn’t mean that ‘listening’ only involves market research, gauging sentiments, categories and keywords. Try to analyze what is lacking in the market. As advertisers, we may not have a control on the product, but we always have a control over the positioning.
Don’t give them a reason to talk! Talk to them!
The trick is to engage consumers by being proactive. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are there as a product and brand to listen to what they are thinking and not saying. Before discussing the product or brand, ask them interesting questions. Use promoted posts to create a focus group testing within your communities. Yes, focus groups aren’t always accurate. But, be blatant about the questions that you ask – questions, the answers to which, you, as a consumer, would know but perhaps, hesitate to speak up. Consider crowdsourcingas an option but don’t feed your consumers, let them feed on the existing situation.
Don’t just shove a product down their throat! Ask them why? Why are they really using your product, as opposed to any other product? Do you really know what your differentiators are? Have you used the product yourself? Have you sat through the product brief and tried to identify if there is any difference between your product and any other product that the consumer would know about? No? Well then, do that. If there are no differences and you are just another competitor, it is more likely that the brand recall, advertising and how far your reach goes will be decisive factors for the consumer in making a purchase decision.
But if you talk to your existing communities, you will get the answer. Use that to your advantage. Create a campaign on any social media platform using any tool available to find out WHY does your consumer buy your product? Based on the responses, engage with the consumer accordingly and use it as a reference point for your next communication.
Trends change but buying behaviour has one element that will always remain constant – the ignorance that drives those trends. Use it to your advantage. What I am trying to say is perhaps futuristic but very simple. Every campaign, advertisement, billboard or hoarding that reaches out to the masses is reflecting the consumerist sense of behaviour, which is today, what is making the product or brand irrelevant. But social media has the power to change that – by genuinely engaging with the consumer. This change will not only benefit consumers but also, create a larger and more profitable market in the long run.
Interestingly, the other day Gautam Ghosh pointed me to this blog about ‘Collaborative Economy‘ by Jeremiah Owyang, suggesting how brands are already creating a shared market space amongst consumers and using it to their advantage. Rather than over-spending on products that they don’t need, consumers have let better economic sense prevail and have decided to share their needs. And that is what consumers would prefer in the future.
So what will make or break your brands is, ‘Is your brand truly unique and doesn’t need a recall to be purchased by your consumers.’
Do you know of any brands who are doing this well? Let me know.

Srinivas has been a communications professional for over 10 years, and has been blogging since 2005. He has worked with the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum India, (A JWT Group Company) for four years and now Heads Learning and Development & Analytics at Social Kinnect: A Digital Marketing Agency in Mumbai. His passion for Advertising, Creativity, Social & Digital Marketing helps make a difference for the brands they work with. 

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