I recently stumbled across a well-known quote from Intuit Founder Scott Cook which encapsulates the paradigm shift that businesses face today – “A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is.” There is no power struggle between marketers and consumers, no more push and it will come strategy, and no ripe for the picking clan of consumers walking around uninformed and uneducated with wallets out.
But brands do have a choice. They can wake up every day uncertain about where consumers will take them, or they can be proactive participants in the journey. Because while the smart brands are ceding control, they do not defer when it comes to taking advantage of the opportunity that the newly empowered and socially outgoing consumer affords: the ability to learn and become consumer fluent.
Being consumer fluent, or knowing consumers inside and out, is about more than just staying informed – it’s about enabling brands to iterate, refocus and give people the experiences, products and services they want.
So what does being consumer fluent look like, and how do you get there? In working with the leading consumer-centric brands and their partners to achieve this goal, we’ve identified what sets these brands apart from the competition.
They know the root cause
Knowing “what” is the easy part. Any brand worth their salt knows what their customers purchase, what they like and share on social media, what movies they watch, food they eat, clothes they wear, etc… Some would call that knowledge insight, but leading organizations call it a nice start. The root cause, or “why”, is the real prize. Getting to it requires skill and resolve. Whether it’s uncovering the drivers behind a low NPS score by analyzing the open-end responses, or digging in qualitatively to unearth why consumers added those non-necessities to their shopping cart, the reward is the same. Root cause understanding allows you to make smarter choices and pull the right levers. It’s knowing that your call center issues don’t stem from poor customer service, but from unrealistic expectations set on the sales side. It’s understanding that your low product satisfaction scores are due to the fact that your photos online look far superior to the product that actually comes in the mail. Knowing “why” sets you on the right path and is a crucial component to fluency.
Language is their guide
The importance of understanding the language consumers use every day, as well as the language they use to talk about your brand and the competition, is often overlooked. When analyzing language, many companies take it at face value, deferring to word counts and rudimentary sentiment analysis. But meaning and associations do not reside at the outer layer. Best in class organizations go deeper to understand subtext and inference. Moreover, they take great care in assessing language’s passion and level of intensity. Whether by analyzing the context and the relationships between ideas in consumer commentary, or by following up with probing questions, there are ways to get you to a place where words can give you more direction than ever before. When you understand your consumer’s language and take the opportunity to make their vocabulary yours, you’ve taken a crucial step in fostering successful engagements.
Audience immersion is paramount
We would all do well to put on our anthropologist hats when looking at key audiences. Any group of interest, whether it be millennial women or Gen X dads, is complex and can’t be understood and engaged effectively using piece meal research and data points. Organizations that are able to establish trust and rapport with their audiences are increasingly taking the initiative to learn about them from the ground up, and keep learning over time. By letting go of pre-conceived notions and truly having exploratory conversations, you can uncover habits, learn about influences, and start to understand culture. Companies that are fluent in their consumers don’t just test with them, they talk with them, often with a goal no more defined then acquiring knowledge. While it’s an initiative that is both long-term and intensive, the benefit is that you’ll know significantly more about your audience then your competition, and how valuable is that?
In the end, consumer-centric companies win because they are armed with a deeper understanding of their audiences and a clear path to successful engagement. They harness every opportunity –big or small – to learn everything they can about their audiences, and recognize the reward in the continuous cycle of learning. How fluent are you?