Remembering The Human Consumer

Today in digital marketing, we’re able to know consumers in ways better than consumers know themselves. Brands today are able to understand unfathomable amounts of information about consumers IRL. This goes beyond your online behavior, but the stores/restaurants you go to, your household income, your job industry, what you’ve purchased, and so on. What’s more, is that brands apply algorithms to determine your past and future as well (what resources you use to make purchase decisions and when you’ll need to purchase refills, or other products you could be interested in).

As an advertiser, this is an incredible time to be alive. We’re able to buy on scale while efficiently targeting key audiences, and the precision of that targeting continually improves. We’re able to monitor and optimize campaigns in real time for even more cost-effectiveness. So, what could go wrong?

A lot of marketers are forgetting that while paid media is becoming more targeted and efficient, we’re also at a time in advertising where brand authenticity and so much more than product benefits have become a major factors in purchase decisions. While I’ve heard a lot of big talk from brands about being “true to their identity,” it’s still considerably rare. The intent is there, but the execution seems to always stop short. Here are a couple of thoughts on how to make this stop.

When two rights make a wrong. You’ve seen it fail spectacularly. Pepsi and the Riot Police (maybe my new band’s name). Pepsi took everything they knew about the audience they were trying to reach and reduced it to a 60-sec spot. Saying to themselves “Kids like protesting (having a cause) and Kardashians, right?” and they weren’t wrong about that in general. The data probably shows that it hits on two strong passion points and would reach a wide, passionate, young audience. However, as you know, it wasn’t so much a celebration of the amazing combination of “peanut butter and jelly” moment as it was a horrifying and tone-deaf combination of “peanut butter and Friskies cat food” moment.

Don’t go changing to try and please customers. Your brand is what it is, and that’s probably a great thing. I’ve spent a lot of my career helping to craft messages that paint a picture of who the brand wants to be to the consumers. The problem: If that messaging doesn’t align with the existing customer experience, it’s kinda bullshit (and your customers know it). As much as I tell my husband I have moves like Beyonce, he’s not buying it because he’s seen me dance.

Related, tell us who you are. Instead of focusing on who you want to be, remember who you are. Almost every brand has an origins story that can make it more relatable, whether you’re an overnight sensation like Warby Parker, or an older, established brand such as IBM. An inspired idea is the heart of the American dream, which is easy to get behind. This message goes much further if you can communicate what your brand stands for beyond profits (protecting the environment, education, child hunger, animal rights, preventing and fighting human trafficking, etc.).

Dive into the data. Automation and algorithms are incredible, but they still require a human touch. An example: think about the demographic group you belong to and ways in which you’re an outlier. Me? I’m a working, Asian, Married, Midwestern W25–45, with kids in the HH. The data would probably say things like: I follow brands in social media for good deals or exclusive brand info, and that I have a high propensity for Orlando Bloom movies. IRL: I follow brands that provide me entertainment only and the only Orlando Bloom movies I can tolerate involve pointy ears and blue contacts. Why does this matter? I’m continually served ads served for products I couldn’t care less about. This means wasted impressions for the brand, wasted opportunity to reach me with something relevant, and if I see that ad enough, I start to really get annoyed by that brand in particular. Diving into the data, you can really test and refine the messages and targeting, ad serving frequency, and not treat all W25–54 as one W.

Maintain the window to your soul. Talk the talk and walk the walk in social media because every day and every engagement is an opportunity to build a customer relationship. Don’t think of social media as a “free” marketing channel to show your customers what you want to sell. Social media is a window into your brand’s soul for customers, investors, potential talent, and anyone else with the slightest bit of interest into your brand. What’s does your brand stand for? What is your brand excited about (within and outside of your brand)? How does your brand prioritize the customer relationship? All these questions are answered in social media, whether you’re managing your channels or not. Own that conversation by engaging and publishing content that reflects who you are as a brand in social media.

Now, I know to a lot of people, what I’ve said is obvious and elementary, but the reality is that some of these missteps are still happening, regardless of how simple it is. These are areas that I think are worth considering when you’re positioning your brand and making marketing decisions. Data is great, but it should never be everything.

Inspired by a recent report about algorithms from Pew Research Center, found here and a recent article by Wahyd Vannoni (Mediacodex)about convincing brands we’re human found here.