B2C and B2B marketers must look at both the macro and micro forces that are shaping the behavior of their audiences along with the increasingly rapid pace of technological change to understand how to drive interesting and exciting discoveries and innovations in almost every personal, business, and public policy arena.
To better understand the impact, let’s quickly identify some of the primary sentiments of populations in many markets.
- Uncertainty. When the status quo is being challenged, individuals and companies develop a heightened sense of awareness of how things are (or might be) changing, and they are less able to feel confident in their plans. This translates into hesitancy to embark upon long-term strategic initiatives, or even to change in small ways. Uncertainty is being felt across a spectrum of domains, from politics to business, and even national identities.
- Risk Aversion. As a result of the dual forces of rapid change and uncertainty in the future, individuals and businesses become highly risk averse. This means that they are more likely to do nothing than to try something new, even if whatever they are doing (or whatever their current product preference) is not achieving satisfactory results. Each decision is weighed not in terms of the possible benefits, but in terms of the risk of failure.
- Dissatisfaction. Look at the political climate in the US, or the anti-EU sentiments in Britain to see how unhappy people are with the way things are going in their immediate environments. While this response may appear to be contradictory to the feelings of uncertainty and risk aversion, there is a consistency in the prevalence of erratic consumer and business buying behavior that reflects unhappiness with the status quo.
While some might see these prevailing sentiments in a negative light, marketers must understand how these forces can inform impactful strategies for successful acquisition and retention this year and beyond. Here are a few ways that marketers can leverage this knowledge and deliver superior results:
1. Be authentic. There is so much noise and clutter in both B2B and B2C marketing, that getting people’s attention and developing any kind of interest has become exponentially more difficult. As businesses and consumers feel unsettled about the future, they especially appreciate when brands deliver on their promises, resulting in a combination of increased loyalty and a deeper sense of confidence in their buying decisions. As such, marketers must truly understand the needs/wants of their markets, and should honestly evaluate their differentiated value-add so that their connection to the customer is based on authenticity. Rather than trying to build a brand based on catch phrases, tag lines, and shareable celebrity endorsements, authentic brands are built around customer experiences with the company’s products and people.
2. Engage the customer – everywhere. In order to reduce the perception of risk in a purchase decision, marketers should take advantage of all the opportunities they have to build a continuous dialogue with their customers at every stage of the buyer’s journey. This is a different approach to “marketing communications” in the sense that the customer is just as involved in the communications process as the marketer. The result is true customer engagement, which increases confidence because customers discover the value of the solution throughout their own process of interaction. This method has been proven by behavioral psychology to be much more effective at knowledge transfer and delivers long-term customers who make better buying decisions. Engagement happens when customers are connected to the brand both intellectually and emotionally. Use digital interactive technology at every customer touch-point to build that emotional and intellectual connection.
3. Make sure your solution really matters. When markets are uncertain, and buyers are risk averse, decisions to purchase are most often made for only those solutions that are necessary and urgent. Identifying a customer need is no longer sufficient. Understanding why it is important to address this need now is the marketer’s job. Helping to build a direct link between the customer’s priorities and your solutions is essential to elevating the importance of this purchase decision. The most effective way to accomplish this is for the customer to build a clear understanding of the outcome that will result from this purchase decision. The more the marketer focuses on helping customers arrive at these outcome-based conclusions themselves, the more successful they will be.
4. Use data, but focus on the person. While data science and analytics has become an essential element of every modern marketing arsenal, it is wise to remember that all purchase decisions are made by people. Even in business purchases, the individual decision-makers are subject to the same strengths and weaknesses as consumers. Neuroscientists have proven that every decision has an element of emotion to it, even when business decision-makers believe that they are being entirely analytical. In fact, many behavioral scientists believe that the primary decision drivers are mainly emotional. This means that our understanding of who makes or influences buying decisions is a critical component of successful modern marketing. Addressing the emotional state of the decision-makers (as, for example, in addressing their sentiments of uncertainty and dissatisfaction) can yield significantly better results than when we simply focus on quantitative benefits of our solutions.
Gavin Finn is president & CEO of Kaon Interactive.