“Mad Men’s” Don Draper reminds us just how much the advertising and retailing worlds once ran on hubris (“What you call love was invented by me to sell nylons”). And how assured these executives were of their ability to control the message (“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”).
While the now classic show exaggerates 1960s ad man behavior, there’s no doubt that overall, Don Draper is spot on. Brands and retailers — through their advertising — told consumers what they wanted, and did so with great authority.
It’s fair to say we live in a vastly different world now.
The Rise of the Modern Consumer
Retailers no longer control the conversation, and haven’t done so since the early 2000s. Once the internet went mainstream, consumers started generating content for other consumers to read about opinions and experiences with products and services. In 2005, the term user-generated content entered the lexicon, and savvy marketers realized the consumer’s network of friends and family held just as much sway as they did.
And perhaps those networks always did. However, without the means to survey a large number of friends quickly or simultaneously, people had no choice but to rely on brands and retailers. After all, in the days before social media, if you wanted to know the opinion of 10 friends, you’d have to call them individually — or host a party. Today, you can ask 200 of your closest Facebook friends what they think quicker than you can dial a phone.
Complicating matters further, consumer decision making is no longer linear; it’s a complex web with steps for discovery, learning, choosing, purchasing and sharing opinions within our personal networks.
Now that the consumer is in the driver’s seat it’s time to ask: What do they want from a retailer, and how can you provide it?
Know the Product Information Landscape
Well before the modern consumer approaches your store, she will have conducted a significant amount of research about the purchase under consideration. She’s probably visited your site to read product reviews, and solicited opinions on one or more social media sites. The good news is the modern consumer has a big appetite for information. The challenge is finding ways to offer accurate information she can trust earlier in her decision-making process.
If you don’t regularly read and respond to the ratings and reviews on your site and in social media, then you’re missing critical opportunities to meet and nurture customer enthusiasts who can serve as authoritative sources of information for you.
Even if you opt not to respond to social media (and there are many instances where that’s a smart decision), you should never opt to ignore it completely.
Product Utility: Get Your Promises in Order
Modern consumers want to know exactly what they’re getting before they make a purchase. You can offer the most reliable and functional gadget in the world, but if you promised it came in blue but you only have it in red, expect to hear about it on social media. More importantly, expect unhappy customers when you could have had delighted ones.
Ensuring that your product or service does exactly what you’ve promised is essential. However, it’s also more complicated. You may have taken great pains to update product specs across all of your touchpoints, but old data may still be out in an influencer’s Instagram feed or an affiliate’s site.
Auditing social media will help you identify instances where your products or services don’t live up to customer expectations — i.e., opportunities to turn a negative into good. Tesla’s Elon Musk did this when he saw a customer complaint on Twitter and turned it into an idea the company rolled out in just six days. Furthermore, if you opt to reach out to disappointed consumers proactively, you’ll go a long way in proving your sincerity.
Create Experiences the Modern Consumer Craves
Modern consumers (aka the selfie generation) want more from retailers than products and receipts; they want experiences that validate their decisions. Essentially, you need to find a way to create an authentic connection between your brand and the consumer, and a brand experience is the way to do that. Admittedly, this is new territory for retailers, and it’s difficult to get right.
Let’s say you’re a national pharmacy chain and you want to turn me into a loyal customer. One strategy is to create sharable moments for me, like proactively knowing when my prescription needs to be refilled, and sending me a text message that allows me to confirm the refill by texting “yes.” Will that prompt me to tell of my Facebook friends that you’re wonderfully convenient?
When we step back and look at why progressive retailers succeed, it’s clear that they’re nailing all three of these tactics. They ensure their product info is relevant across all of these new sources. They make certain their products perform as expected, and have a process to learn when they don’t. Lastly, they identify moments in time when the consumer is willing to engage, setting the stage to elevate your brand by sharing experiences with their worlds. In turn, this opens the door to develop or refine your strategy to reach and engage consumers who are wholly new to your brand.
Michael Mathias is the president of Target Data, a company that provides data-driven marketing solutions.