Instability in media fads is hurting consumer trust
A view from Sue Unerman

Instability in media fads is hurting consumer trust

Could FUCU, a new acronym used to describe the surprising political world, also be applied to marcoms?

Gillian Tett, the managing editor of the Financial Times, last month created a new acronym to explain to the world the continual surprises of the electoral results in the western world: FUCU.

Tett coined FUCU as a critical and political analysis.  It led me to question whether FUCU might be a descriptor for marcoms too.

Tett's F stands for Fragmentation, reflecting the polarised views of people in the first world.  In the UK, still reeling from the Brexit vote last summer, it became clear that a London-centric view of consumers was deeply foolish.  Unless you really get that a Huddersfield housewife has less than £100 a week to spend on household expenses, you really don’t have proper customer insight to fuel communications strategy.  Personalised and localised insights are crucial and easier to come by than ever with intelligent analysis of data.  You should also just get on a train and get out of London.

Tett's first U stands for Untrusting. The Edelman Trust Barometer described a crisis of trust in media, brands and institutions, and for anyone who has been following the trajectory of their annual study it has made for grim reading over the last five years.  What do consumers want? Truth and authenticity.  

C represents Customisation.  Customer service expectations are higher than ever before.  At MediaCom’s "What’s eating Gen Z?" seminar the speakers agreed that Gen Z expects a level of customer service that exceeds any actual experience.  The consensus was that if you took to Twitter with an angry rant and didn’t get an immediate apology and redress, then the brand in question took a real hit in terms of credibility.  However they reflected that no actual brand had come anywhere near good enough.  More broadly we know that e-commerce is essentially "Me-commerce".  Consumers expect disappointment, and any brand (including politicians) that delivers a bit better than the others will gain clear competitive advantage.

Her second U stands for Unstable. Tett writes of today’s culture as "a place of political cyber flash mobs, in which passion suddenly explodes around a single issue or person then dies away. It is a place where it is hard to have a sustained conversation about trade-offs, and where voters and politicians jump across traditional boundaries with dizzying speed, defying labels as they go." 

The instability in media fads sometimes mirrors this. Media owners see sectors go in and out of fashion and experience the highs and the lows accordingly. As long as media spend remains aligned with audience research techniques that vary greatly across media types, there will be a large amount of spend that flows according to what will work in theory. The real answer to this is outcome-based planning and a development of outcome-based trading. Although media owner heads talk passionately about how strong their medium is in delivering good ROI, not enough of the money spent in media overall is traded on shared risk and reward (outside of immediate response or click through.)

FUCU lacks a third U, however, as far as marcoms is concerned. I’d add another U to represent the "you" of the consumer.  Unless strategists truly walk in the customers' shoes and drive insights, all you get is a series of "me too" communications which fail to differentiate the brand and build real memory structures that ensure that the target audience reaches for that particular brand first of all. Real insights must show how the target audience operates in the category and turn into an actionable strategy to drive sales. Let’s put this U first and pay the consumer the respect of real empathy in our comms strategy. In the upcoming awards season for Media Week this is the key ingredient that makes a winner. 

With her intentionally offensive acronym (sorry if you are offended), Tett is delivering a commentary on the deteriorating relationship between politicians in general and the voters.  With an emphasis on the "you" of the consumer, we will grow brands and also avoid dwindling trust.  UFUCU.

Sue Unerman is the chief transformation officer of MediaCom.