The impact of the internet and mobile technology on the marketplace and in how we communicate with one another is both enormous and difficult to fully understand. In part this is because new ways of reaching each other, new habits and new preferences are continually evolving. Businesses have access to an unprecedented wealth of information and potential insight into their customers. This allows them to reach people in new ways, targeting granular market segments with messaging that speaks directly to an individual’s preferences.
Some of this makes for satisfying consumer experiences. Need a new pair of shoes or a new phone? Hop online and with little effort what you want is on the way to your home. Pay a little extra and you can have it the next day. Wonderful! This experience of convenience can be satisfying in part because it meets an emotional need.
Meanwhile, cultural norms about where and how advertising is acceptable or desirable are rapidly changing. Public transportation is often a moving billboard, plastered with ads for different products and services. Mobile devices allow ads to follow us wherever we go and increasingly they can dynamically respond to our environment with tailored offerings. But is all of this working?
In an almost defiant reaction to the hyper-commercialization that technology enables, a groundswell has been gradually forming that shows strong preference toward products, services and cultural artifacts that help restore some semblance of intimacy to our lives. The smartest businesses are paying close attention to this trend and reevaluating the way people interact with their brands.
Consumer action is driven by emotion. It may or may not be supported by facts, but the trigger is a want, need or desire that often has roots far deeper than simple efficacy. After all, people aren’t robots. Here’s the thing: the effects of hyper-commercialization can end up overwhelming the individual, inducing ambivalence or even alienation. Too much micro-targeted advertising leaves an individual feeling like just another exploitable resource. How are consumers responding to all of this?
To combat this feeling of helplessness and the suspicion that faceless corporations view their customers as walking ATMs, with zero genuine interest in their lives and well-being, many consumers are quietly revolting. They are looking to return things to a more down to earth, simple, authentic state. Even if they have to pay more or sacrifice convenience, they will avoid throwing fuel on the fire that powers the machine responsible for eroding their sense of community and humanity.
Evidence of this abounds, from the locavore movement to the proliferation of small businesses that offer artisanal or handcrafted products. We may choose to mock the stereotypical hipster’s fixation on esoterica, but there is a reason for it. We can see this hunger for human connection not only in commerce but in our public discourse, movies, tv, and politics. For good or ill, distrust of the corporate agenda is on the rise.
In an environment of increasing competition, what can your brand do to stand out while meeting the needs, desires and expectations of your potential customers? How do you help your brand touch them in a meaningful way? How do you establish an enduring connection, a relationship that will drive preference in your customers?
The process of humanizing a brand is not fast and it cannot be automated. But each authentic interaction a brand has with its customers goes a long way to create loyalty by satisfying a deeply seated instinct in all of us to connect, to be recognized, to feel important and to live our lives with purpose and meaning. The more sensitive brands can be to these human needs, and the more they can fulfill them in reasonable ways, the more secure their position will be in the marketplace.
We have identified five things to focus on that can help your brand achieve these goals. Be sure to download our 5 Tips for Building a Stronger Brand to learn more about the steps you can take to make your brand stronger and develop lasting relationships with your customers.
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