Unilever, Google and Microsoft on how consumer engagement is set to change over the next 10 years

With consumer engagement set to evolve with the increased use of digital, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has released four key predictions on how consumer relationships with advertisers could change by 2025 at Ad Week Europe today (24 March). Executives from Unilever, Microsoft and Google debate how they are likely to respond to these changes over the next 10 years.

The IPA said it produced the four key findings by researching the major trends in marketing since 2006, with a full report set to be published in July 2015.

According to IPA’s preliminary research, the four key changes will lead the consumer to primarily have either a high emotional engagement or a highly functional role when it comes to their relationship with major brands.

In addition, these changes will dictate whether the brand is seen as driver of brand knowledge or the consumer is.

In cases where a consumers’ relationship with a brand is highly emotional, brands will have to become more responsible for storytelling, according to the IPA.

Meanwhile, in instances where the relationship is highly functional, it said that the consumer is solely concerned with the service they receive and therefore the brand is more inclined to follow the consumer in their journey.

Jon Goldstone, VP brand building for foods and refreshments at Unilever believes that its brands fall under the ‘Brand Me-Q’ category – or a highly emotional brand where consumers see the product or service as a part of their lifestyle. He believes that this will be the key driver of its marketing over the next decade.

Goldstone said: “The big FMCG brands, the really famous ones tend to have incredibly high levels of penetration, high levels of awareness and strong levels of emotional engagement.

“In this case the brand really does the hard work,” he added.

However, Goldstone believes Unilever’s brands can also move across from being brand led to consumer led. He uses Ben & Jerry’s campaign for LGBT rights in 2012 as an example of this. Goldstone said the ethical campaign led to a sigificant purchase uplift over rival Haagen Daaz during the same period.

Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, Philippa Spare, however, believes that all parts of the brand journey have a place but she puts Microsoft firmly in the ‘iControl’ category – a scenario where the consumer leads the purchase journey and brands respond in real-time to their actions.

“I want to give people the ability to protect their data and to get the most out of what they want to do and feel that they’re in charge of their experiences,” she explains.

“Technology is an enabler and in some scenarios its not about the brand it’s just about getting the service out for people who want it,” added Spare.

As a tech brand and also a platform to a range of influencers, Google’s director of branding David Black believes that brands should be looking to act according to the  ‘Brand Me-Q’ category, and the ‘Me and Brand Next Door’ category – which looks at casual connectivity with the consumer where the brand is treated as a friend. But, he says consumer choice in how their data is used is essential.

Black said: “What’s really important is authenticity. Consumers are in control on the internet they have more choice than ever before. But, as a result when they are watching content that content has to be very authentic. So for brands, partnering with that content is really key.”

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