A crisis, particularly if it’s a global pandemic, creates a lot of uncertainties. For brands, these range from product demand to the long-term impact on loyalty and lifelong custom. The Covid-19 outbreak forced businesses to re-define the role they play in consumers' lives, both now and when the crisis is over. The more agile brands saw consumer-centricity as the answer.
Whilst current circumstances highlight the importance of keeping customers at the heart of a business strategy, the concept itself is not new. Over the past few years, we’ve seen great examples of brands embracing this culture. Brands who live and breathe consumer - from innovation and usability to communication and experience. They disrupt their industries and raise eyebrows, and that’s fine because through innovation and authenticity they also build relationships likely to outlast a crisis.
At the centre of it all is listening to and knowing the audience. Understanding the needs, beliefs and values at any given time, and proactively addressing the demand.
Becoming a business led by its consumers is not easy - it requires investment, time and effort. But, looking at brands which successfully went through the transformation, it’s definitely worth it. We’ve looked across industries to understand the winning formula.
Heinz gets customers involved in its #standwithdiners initiative to support local businesses and communities
Digital transformation and data as a single source of truth
It’s difficult for global organisations to change, largely due to the sheer volume of moving parts involved. They are often slow to adapt and the innovative thinking, although recognised, rarely goes beyond the concept stage. We often see this when discussing big scale social intelligence programs with clients - the idea is tempting but the scale of execution overwhelming. However, be under no illusion, investment in technology and data analytics is a crucial part of the consumer-centricity journey.
To deliver a smooth and unique experience, a wealth of data and feedback is needed. And not just a one-off feedback, a continuous stream of information on how, why and when a product is relevant. This ongoing loop enables brands to outperform competitors as they continue to unlock value of their offer, adapting to changing circumstances. And they do it with speed and scale.
There are a number of data sources which enrich customer experience, social data being a key component. This unprompted and instant stream is invaluable but often difficult to grasp, order and implement. As a result of legacy issues, fast growing teams or regional divisions, international businesses end up with valuable but often fragmented analysis and results. Break the silos and increase productivity by investing in and implementing technology which can provide a single source of truth, with data structured to inform and drive implementation effectively.
Danone is an example of a global business where the digital transformation process has been a success. With a smart use of social data, the company is able to ensure consistent, relevant and real-time consumer insights are used by its teams around the world. From marketing and digital to R&D and CSR - they all depend on a single source of truth. To get to that stage of efficiency, a partner who embeds itself in the company’s culture is key.
Danone has been forward thinking in their use of social data. Radarly dashboard pictured
Customer at the heart of brand evolution
Consumer-centric brands aim to close the gap between the expectation and delivery, and fast. Today, this means that the typical product development process (from its conception to market release) is too long. Predicting the future, the product of tomorrow, has never been as important as today, when the needs and expectations change so rapidly.
Danone’s decision to acquire WhiteWave Foods in 2017 might have come as a surprise to industry commentators but for the brand itself this was a calculated and informed move. Recognising the shift in consumer behaviour and increased demand for plant-based products, the bet on veganism continues to pay off to this day. And the innovation didn’t stop there.
Predicting the trend of tomorrow is easier than you think. The right combination of advanced technology and human expertise means brands can anticipate not only the demand but also occasions, pain points and consumption habits well before they become mainstream.
Burberry, one of our long standing clients, was the first company to offer its consumers an option to buy an item online and pick it up in store, recognising the need for a seamless and unified shopping experience long before its competitors did. Casper understood key pain points expressed by customers when buying a mattress - trip to the store, overwhelming choice, fear of disappointment - and entered the market with a single product addressing all of these needs. The confirmation in how well the brand understands its consumer is also in the product they released next - a dog bed. Appealing to a huge community of pet owners on both, emotional and functional level, the company continues to demonstrate they listen, understand and evolve.
Seize the moment and act now
Whilst becoming a customer-driven organisation is a process, some of the changes can (and should) happen fast. Social intelligence programs offer solutions which can be implemented in good time and at scale. Advanced, AI-driven tools present almost instant opportunities for brands willing to tap into the social insights goldmine. This is especially important when businesses are expected to lead, not just react to current circumstances.
There are businesses which have come to a halt due to the Covid-19 crisis but there are also brands who found new ways of connecting with consumers. The gaming industry excels in consumer centricity, with the player being at the heart of every operation. Global organizations, including Sony and Xbox, continue to improve experiences on the platforms - from the buying stage to maintenance and participation. The industry remained unimpacted by the Covid-19 outbreak for as long as possible but cancelled events and supply chain shortages mean not everything is going according to plan. However, digital offers obvious opportunities, with online downloads increasing by unprecedented levels in the first weeks of the lockdown.
Fortnite’s owner Epic Games is not new to leveraging its fan’s interests and passions in content they produce. Before the outbreak, their regular seasonal events linking to movies and musicals attracted substantial audiences. This creativity is paying off now with online events filling in hours previously spent outside by many. Fortnite’s latest idea involved rapper Travis Scott and a “massively multiplayer music video”. The event was watched by more than 12 million people, a new record for the game. And live commentary from players confirms the success.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, social conversations surrounding gaming have been raising and going beyond the specialist channels used historically by players. Twitter, Instagram or Twitch are more accessible sources for consumer insights, whilst communities forming on these channels offer a fresh perspective and outlook.
Online conversation on gaming since January. Source: Radarly
Many players use the quarantine time to try out games they’ve previously dismissed. Outside of the product demand, this shift in behaviour has an obvious impact on how brands should speak to this potentially new funbase. From kids and young adults playing with their parents, to couples discovering a new hobby together - the increased interest comes not only from existing customers but from communities new to the online gaming all together. With the right message and communications strategies, these can become a significant part of a brand’s journey and its evolution.
Now is not the time to stop investing
Becoming a consumer-driven organisation is a process. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be overwhelming! Starting with an intelligent set of technology and teams who can make an impact and prove success fast. Whilst research & development teams focus on the next big thing and product innovation, marketing departments can use consumer insights to tailor their strategy and upcoming campaigns.
Whilst many global organisations decided to reduce or entirely freeze their marketing budgets, now is not the time to stop investing. Whether we emerge from the crisis with the new normal or things go back to where they were - the power of the consumer is not going to be diminished. To the contrary. The lockdown is making a lot of us more outspoken. Social media use continues to raise. This means we will have more insights, ideas and data to work with.