Who cares about brands?

Phil Harvey, chairman of JPMH, comments on the importance of aligning retail brands to consumer values as the marketing industry experiences a step change in buyers’ behaviour and associated influencing factors.

With the recession having acted as a catalyst for a significant shift in the dynamic between brands and their target market, it is more important than ever, in the retail sector, for marketers to align their brands with consumer values. The old adage of get the right message to the right person at the right time is no longer enough – in today’s multichannel society people are different consumers at different times, and are therefore responsive to different channels at different times.

It’s important that retailers and marketers learn how to identify these differences in order to help buyers to buy, rather than to simply sell. Above all, it’s about the person. It’s about you as an individual and it’s about me.

This is likely to see yet another step change, as brands try an altogether different approach. A challenging task, especially for those that have spent the last 150 years telling us to trust them, to buy their products, using sneaky methods to excite our emotions or wooing us with false sincerity. Retailers now need to change their mindset and think, act and feel like people. And that’s easier said than done.

Overcoming this perception is a challenge, not enough retailers are thinking strategically, rather they continue to follow the trends that have been in place for years. For example, too many brands see the internet and, more specifically, social media as just another way for them to push their product. Just another way to do what they’ve always done.

The way for retailers to take advantage of this change in our marketing way of life is to stop selling, and start talking, to their customers. Customers enjoy dialogue, they enjoy participating and engaging. They don’t enjoy propaganda.

It’s so important to know the difference between talking and selling. At JPMH we try and think of our messaging as a real-time conversation, not as an advertisement. Think of your favourite ad – then transpose the headline or the voiceover into a more domestic situation, for example sitting with your partner watching TV. What is their reaction? Engagement or laugh out loud? We call this the credibility test. Having a conversation has to be two way and has to be, well, conversational – not a series of reasons to believe or propositions delivered in a different format. This is true of all marketing communications, and especially so of social media.

Some brands have already made great headway here. Retailers that understand that people don’t want to be talked at, they want to be talked to. They want to engage with brands that care about them, and their lives and values. It’s these brands that boast a loyal following, such as ASOS, John Lewis and M&S. These brands have understood the nature of the relationship. Interestingly, this approach has not only been constrained to the channels in question, but has started to inform their overall approach to marketing communications.

However, this it is not without its potential pitfalls. Retailers absolutely have to be genuine; otherwise there could be a backlash. This is a mindset shift – not a ’we’re smarter than you’ lip service approach. It is about delivering a great product or service and then openly engaging with customers about what’s good, what’s bad and how things can be improved.

There is no panacea; this requires a fundamental change in approach. Retailers and brands need to be more transparent, regardless of media used, and listen more to what their customers want, and what is being said about their product. Social media in particular has presented brands with an opportunity to get involved in the conversation, and has the potential to turn negative criticism into a positive experience, if handled well. This will ultimately give their buyers want they want: the power to make their own informed purchasing decisions, from brands that care about them purchasing the right products for their needs.

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