Sustainability is a major goal for any brand. In order to become sustainable, a brand must make an emotional connection to its customers. In order to make an emotional connection, a brand must constantly engage and evolve its relationship with its customers. In her speech at the GfK Future Consumer Summit, Helen Zeitoun, Global Head of Brand and Customer Experience at GfK, detailed the steps a brand must take to ensure that it forms a lifetime bond with consumers. Emphasizing entertaining experiences, building positive sentiment, and the “wow” factor, Helen outlined how researchers and brands alike must rethink their approach to understanding what consumers want and how future behavior can best be predicted.
The foundation for brand success rests on the simple truth that people like to have experiences. Brands must draw in and entertain consumers. Brands must also enable consumers to demonstrate how they benefit from and use that brand’s products and services. Finally, brands must understand behaviors and trends and predict what consumers will want before they know what they want. Beer giant Budweiser provides the perfect case story for how a brand can take advantage of changing trends and use these changes as an opportunity to interact with them. As micro-breweries became increasingly popular, Budweiser noticed an erosion of its market share. Faced with this challenge, Budweiser decided to join-in with this movement in the beer community. Through its “Untapped” app, Budweiser created a social setting and enabled consumers to share their experiences. In addition, Budweiser reached out through events and visits, successfully connecting with former, current, and future customers. Crucially, Budweiser understood that their future success was dependent on understanding and supporting changing tastes.
This example highlights the importance of social media to consumers. While they may share a positive experience, they will also share a negative one. The underlying connection with a brand is important because how someone remembers an interaction is largely determined by emotion rather than fact. Rationality is far less significant in these instances than sentimentality is. For example, a customer calling a bank for help when their debit card is taken by an ATM, is far more likely to remember how they felt the bank handled the situation than what was said. The fact that the issue was ultimately resolved by the bank is less important, especially if the customer experienced a lot of hassle. Brand connections not only support acquisition and retention, but they also keep the door open in the event a customer churns.
In order for brands to capture customer sentiment, they must go beyond brand communication and establish a model that supports new experiences and relationships. In Germany, the recent competition between Nike and Puma is a good example of the benefit that knowledge of consumer behavior provides. Between 2009 and 2013, Nike saw its market share rise, while Puma saw its fall. Looking at both brands during this period, both had similar brand performance and image scores. What separated the two brands was the imprint that Nike left on consumers’ memories and its presence on social media. Nike understood the full picture of consumer behavior by realizing the potential of social media for their brand. This model will hold them in good stead in the future because they have made an emotional link with their customers.
Future brand success and sustainability are tied to the connections made today. Supported by technology and social media, brands must not only deliver memorable, exciting experiences, but they must also anticipate the direction their customers are headed, how they will get there, what will get them there, and why they will go this way. In order to do this, brands must rethink how they will achieve sustainability and researchers must rethink how they will capture and interpret future trends.