Customer expectations have continued to increase dramatically over recent years, and one of the biggest areas we’ve seen it in is personalization. In essence, customers want more, and they want personalization to work and meet them where they are.
This dynamic is tied strongly to generational and technological advancement. The younger generations are much more willing to sacrifice a bit of data privacy for more seamless omnichannel experiences, which just hasn’t been the case with prior generations. Gen Xers and, to a greater extent, Boomers, still get a little nervous when they know their behavior is being tracked. Those of us that didn’t grow up as digital natives have more of a need to know why and how data tracking works, beyond the simple acknowledgment that it elevates our experiences. The need to meet customers where they are with relevancy and intentionality impacts a variety of areas across marketing communications.
Generational advances and the need for evolved strategy
Millennials and Gen Z are really in the driver’s seat when it comes to shaping the way brands communicate and interact. They expect personalization to work. And that desire for personalized experiences has permeated all facets of marketing. The need for strategy evolution becomes more obvious in areas of paid media and direct marketing because of conversations around data privacy and how to work within new rules, but relevancy has become an increasingly important requirement across the entire path to purchase. From the moment it’s introduced until the end of its existence, a brand must seek to connect in more meaningful and relevant ways.
Even when they’re communicating at a mass scale, brands have the opportunity to connect with consumers in a more human, personalized way. The not-so-secret ingredient in this quest is how brands express and live out their values. Debates about how far to go with the personification of brands have been around for years, but social media has added further dimension to thinking about brands more like people. When considering who your brand is and what its values are, do you want to hang out with it?
Democratization and rising expectations for brands
These shifts are all part of the constantly rising bar for brands. Think of some of your favorite artists—some are saying they would never have been discovered in this era of TikTok, when audiences are exposed to a much larger sea of talent. The same goes for brands: There are just so many more options for consumers than ever before. For those born and raised on Instagram and TikTok and various other social channels, the contest for eyeballs, relationships, and ultimately for the dollar, has been democratized. It's no longer enough to just be good—you have to be great, and you have to be memorable.
It’s been celebrated across the internet already, but it was a showstopper when Patagonia’s founder donated the company to fight climate change. Everybody's still talking about it. It's a prime example of how it's no longer enough for brands to uphold very standard, tried and true values as a way to differentiate and connect. They have to go beyond the basics.
In the case of Patagonia, the shared values offer a means for customers to work cooperatively with the brand to create a better, healthier world for all. That's where movements are created. Seeking moments of engagement is no longer enough—brands must go beyond that to achieve true, lasting participation with their consumers. And it starts with brands knowing who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist.
Meeting customers where they are from the beginning
That territory of shared values, where brands and customers coexist, is rich territory. But you have to push further to truly understand how culture is moving, as a foundation for that relationship where you find or create the opportunities to spark participation. It’s all a part of the democratization social media has created—there are no longer a select few agents or CEOs making the decisions. Consumers own brands as much or more than brands own themselves.
So how can brands rise to this challenge of delivering a more personalized experience earlier in the customer journey and sparking participation with consumers? There are a few best practices to consider:
Keep authenticity front and center at all times by doing your brand foundation homework first. The best and most accurate expressions of purpose, vision, and values are rarely squishy, and they're often quite obvious. It's about being true to, and really embracing, the origins of your brand, of your company, and why you exist.
Remember it’s not “us and them,” it’s only “we.” It’s critical to understand how you serve your customers through shared values, and it has to go beyond the basic rational benefits to a more emotional and aspirational level. That’s where brand love is born and nurtured.
Never stop being a student of how culture moves and takes shape so you can discover the most authentic opportunities to bring your brand and your customers together. Some of those already exist, and some need to be created. As a student of culture, you understand all the contributing factors, including what to embrace and, perhaps more importantly, what not to.
Context is everything. Nothing stays the same for very long, and you always need to understand the environment within which you’re operating.
It’s critical that brands take the time to uncover, understand, and define the right brand foundation to connect authentically. Staying true to the heart of your brand is challenging and building the right team, both internally and with your agency partners, is essential to the process. It’s what will drive your ability to create moments that matter with consumers and help your brand evolve along with culture to remain a relevant part of their lives—ultimately driving participation as a “we."
Look for our upcoming ICF Next research:
Shared Values and Beliefs are a focus for how we build and spark Participation across ICF Next. The role of these beliefs in how people make decisions about the brands they choose to do business with has likely changed over recent years due to a number of monumental impacts (e.g., pandemic, racial tensions, political tensions, economic changes). ICF Next is embarking on new primary research to uncover any shifts in attitudes and how those shifts may be impacting decision making across generations, as well as between products, services and other solutions.
The results of this study will build on our proprietary Humanizing Loyalty research and are slated to be published in early 2023.