Why brands need to take a stand
How often have you said or heard people around you say—ask Google when you need to know anything from flight and movie timings to weather updates and map directions. It is our de facto go-to resource for almost everything. Amazon knows what you want and Facebook and Instagram are your life.
You don’t think so? Then, type ‘Facebook is my’ in your Google search bar and you will get 'life' as one of the top auto-complete options. Or buy something on Amazon, and its recommendation engine which accounts for over a third of its overall purchases will make suggestions on what else you may like. To some of you, this may sound like a bit of a stretch. But given that we spend on an average five hours online every day and the technology platforms' in-built ability to customise and personalise along with their ease of use has made them an integral part of our smartphone-dependent lifestyle.
Yet, it’s not just the big four—Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook—that are trying to present a human face, form a deeper connect or a relationship with their consumers. Nor is this new. Marketers have always tried to influence our purchases and behaviour by seeming to know us or be like us.
In the 1950s, all it took to get consumers to start using a brand was to have good quality. By 1960s, as competition grew, we entered the Mad Men era of advertising which focused on better packaging and branding. By the 1980s, advertising and marketing evolved to emotion-led selling as brands got involved with the culture and local aspirations, and went beyond highlighting their benefits—Think Thums Up or Enfield Bullet which appealed to the macho male. The conversation then changed as we entered the digital era by the end of 1990s, moving to globalization, technology, social networking and digital strategy. The last 20 years also marked the downslide of creativity due to the over-dependence on technology. This is now once again changing. Marketers have realized that traditional displays and advertisements through popular mediums do not guarantee engagement. Customers are creating and shaping trends each day.
However, thanks to technology, our social contexts have changed. We now live in a world that records our vast digital footprints and analyzes and amplifies everything on our social networks. What we also have is an environment with heightened political polarization and increased hate tirades. Interestingly, there is also an increased effort to break stereotypes, social norms and taboos. And to be responsible—responsible for our environment, responsible towards society and stakeholders.
Digital technology has changed the way we think and even lead our lifestyles. It has redefined our shopping expectations. The brands we like, buy and surround ourselves with including our music playlists, toothpastes, bedsheets and shoes define us, brand expert and author Martin Lindstorm said in his 2016 book Small Data.
Yet, not many of these regular brands make their way to our social media conversations. The curated social media posts on our social media timeline often reflect our interests—an active lifestyle, social issues like climate change, global warming, pollution, gender equality, inclusivity and more trivial ones like eating healthy, travel and discovery.
What this provides is scope to marketers to make it into the conversation. So, for instance, while #MeToo started as a movement on social media, today it represents everything from sexual assault and harassment to a conversation about men’s behaviour towards women and the imbalance of power at the top.
Likewise, the lesser-known social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham and his quest for making low-cost sanitary napkins available to women is now a bigger movement. It is about breaking taboos and affordable menstruation hygiene.
For brands, becoming a part of these conversations is beneficial. Nearly two-thirds of consumers claim to be willing to pay more for products aligned to their social causes, said a 2017 survey by Interband, a global brand consultancy. What this says is perhaps our distinct online and offline personas are merging.
On the flip side, the repercussions to not being aligned are high. In 2017, Chinese nationals boycotted South Korean products and took to the streets to tell companies like Lotte Group, a South Korean supermarket chain to get out of China after news that the country had embraced an American missile defence system, which according to the Chinese authorities could be used to spy upon them.
More recently in India, diamantaire Nirav Modi said his brand got destroyed overnight as details of a Rs11,400 crore scam emerged on 14 February. Likewise for Gitanjali Gems Ltd. Some of the still operational jewellery stores under brand names Gili and Gitanjali Jewels now wear a deserted look as consumers have abandoned the stores.
The signs are clear—The Times They Are a-Changin.
Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.