There is much chatter in the marketing community about the need for communications to be more human and for brands to have clear purpose. Whilst plenty of brands are talking a good talk, woefully few are actually walking the walk. I would go as far as to say, particularly in the service industry, we have never been more disconnected from people.
Our recent Meaningful Brands study tells us that 85% of Brits believe brands should play a role in improving their quality of life. Just 3% of brands are considered to be doing so today. A frightening discrepancy.
Warmth towards advertising has halved over the last two decades which tells us that we are not serving the needs of people adequately
Today's increasingly technology-driven landscape offers brands the most exciting space they’ve ever had to initiate and nurture customer relationships. Despite this huge opportunity, we are failing. Why?
Because we seem to have forgotten that technology mimicking human behaviour does not make for meaningful connections.
Yes, technology may be the glue that binds our lives together, with the average UK household owning over 17 digital devices but you can’t automate being human.
Great communication that connects with people must tap into our personal values to engage people. Technology should take away the "heavy lifting" of marketing and invisibly operate in the background, informing us how to build the right connections and enabling that to happen more seamlessly.
Connections will only be built in the first place if the work we create is emotive, relevant and personal. This is where most brands are failing to connect.
People care about how brands make their lives simpler, help them connect with friends and family, grow as individuals. Product excellence is just the first hurdle.
Brands need to create sustainable relationships with consumers
Warmth towards advertising has halved over the last two decades which tells us that we are not serving the needs of people adequately. We must break the mould of brands bombarding consumers with dull, unimaginative and irrelevant content, which does nothing to fuel meaningful, personal connections.
To forge sustainable relationships, brands need to consider how they can make customers’ lives better, using technology and data to offer service that delights us.
Amazon ranks as the most meaningful brand in the UK because it provides an un-substitutable service that makes people's feel happier and more satisfied with their lives - not just their purchases.
We must break the mould of brands bombarding consumers with dull, unimaginative and irrelevant content
Even with the backdrop of tax evasion and a Panorama interrogation into staff welfare, people are willing to believe that Amazon will solve its challenges because it demonstrates a true value exchange with customers.
Brands need to behave more like people in 2015. That means being open, honest, fallible and listening more. Brand equity is being challenged by emerging businesses that succeed based on these values but also brilliant customer experience. People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it so it is businesses with a clear purpose to make things better that are winning.
This was perfectly illustrated by Rob and Paul Forkan, co-founders of Gandys Flip Flops whose personal mission is to use profits to build a children’s home in Sri Lanka, following the tragedy of losing their parents in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. This shows that clear purpose engages people and that will lead to profit as an outcome, rather than predictably starting with profit as the objective.
Meaningful brands listen
What the above examples have in common is that they both start with the why, their purpose and not with "what" they do. Meaningful brands are those that listen to what people are dissatisfied with and strive to do something to change and improve that. By doing so, they earn the right to be part of the conversation and have permission to be in people's lives.
Data and technology will increasingly be key to informing the right decisions and taking away the heavy lifting, but it is genuine human understanding, talent, creativity and relevance that ensures there is a meaningful experience for the customer.
Evolving technology and the fact that people are handing over more data creates the expectation that brands have a richer understanding of their customers. So why don't they use it better?
A small collection of smart (largely tech) brands are fulfilling this promise through relevant and helpful utility messaging (Amazon, Netflix,Booking.com are good examples).
The industry will take some time to evolve to a 1-2-1 world but it is critical that brands learn that they need to earn the right to interrupt by personalising their communications and better serving the needs of people, rather than lazily serving ad impressions.