Recently, there’s been a spate of marketing campaigns by major corporations that have been negatively received on a global scale. Rather than sell a product or deliver a message, all they’ve succeeded in doing is illustrate just how much the dynamics of the relationship between brands and consumers have changed. Today’s consumers are all-seeing and all-knowing. They absorb information at unprecedented speeds through a seemingly infinite amount of channels that they're able to tailor to their own needs. In fact, U.S. adults spent an average of 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media last year. Armed with this information, why are brands still failing to hit the mark with them?
Pepsi recently launched a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. The commercial was designed to court politically active youth. Millennials, which make up a significant portion of this group, are collectively expected to spend more than $200 billion annually starting in 2017, and $10 trillion in their lifetimes. The ad was designed to tap the emotional center of this group, but received so much negative feedback that it was pulled only days later.
In a similar vein, Cheerios ran a campaign to support bees by giving away seeds for wildflowers, which it then urged their customers to plant. Unfortunately, the campaign drew the ire of consumers who felt the campaign was more than a little hypocritical. "Pretending to be concerned about the environment when you're buying oats that have been sprayed with glyphosate doesn't fool anyone," one critic remarked on Cheerios’ Facebook page.
Both of these campaigns, while for noble causes, came across as completely tone deaf to consumers, making the companies seem disingenuous. As a brand or retailer, the worst thing you can do is lose consumers’ trust. Unfortunately, Pepsi and Cheerios had to learn that the hard way.
While it’s incredibly rewarding to run a business while supporting a good cause, it’s a precarious position to be in if you aren’t clear on what your company mission is and whether it aligns with your customers’ values. Today’s consumer is savvy and values brand authenticity and transparency above all — simply tugging at their heart strings isn’t enough. It’s especially unwise to follow a few social media trends and buzzwords and hope to build a meaningful campaign around them. Campaigns, like the examples above, fail because they touch upon something the consumer cares about, without going too deep (or in Pepsi’s case, glossing over the actual cause). As a result, they come across as vapid and make the consumer feel pandered to rather than understood.
Cory Bayers, vice president of marketing at Patagonia, a company that recently revamped its mission to much success, puts it simply, “If you’re not creating a conversation, why are you even talking? Brands talk a lot about cutting through the clutter, but a lot of times they’re creating that clutter.”
Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everyone
One way you can avoid this type of miss is to tailor your message to smaller, more specific demographics. Targeted messages cut through the fluff to deliver custom experiences to prospective consumers, which in turn gives you a better chance at earning their trust. A great way to tailor your messages is through influencer marketing. How?
- Test your message with influencers. The mark of a great influencer is one that's in tune with their followers’ needs, thus able to safeguard the interests of their "social tribe." These influencers won’t share information that doesn’t resonate with their communities, which ensures that your brand is getting the right message(s) to the right people. Remember that nearly half of potential consumers rely on influencer opinions when seeking recommendations.
- Allow influencers to tell your story. Major ad campaigns and million-dollar commercials don’t have to be your go-to. Start closer to home by sharing your story with a few key influencers. For retailers, influencers can be key brands, bloggers or Instagram stars, among others. They’ll help you get the word out in the way that makes sense for their audience and your potential customers. The most powerful story is the one somebody else tells about you.
- You can’t have enough influencers: Word-of-mouth and virality are critical to getting your message out. Seventy-four percent of people rely on social media to guide them when making purchase decisions. In this digital age, clicks, impressions and shares are a crucial part of building brand awareness and consumer engagement.
In a world where messages are consumed via so many different channels, brands need to find unique ways to connect with consumers to deliver ones that truly resonate. There’s never been a moment to be more purposeful, deliberate and authentic — the consumers you win today will stay with you longer and give you more feedback than you’ve ever had before. They just need to trust you.
Phil Chang is the industry lead and retail expert at Hubba, a product information network.