They like me, they really like me. Right? Brands and the misguided allure of participation

TNS presented the results from its Connected Life 2015 survey on Friday. And, speaking at the event, Jacqueline Smart, head of planning at JWT, said brands had developed an unhealthy obsession with getting customers to participate in marketing campaigns. 

Smart read out a quote from blogger and marketing writer Bob Hoffman, AKA The Ad Contrarian: “The idea that the same consumer who was frantically clicking her TV remote to escape from advertising was going to merrily click her mouse to interact with it is going to go down as one of the great advertising delusions of all time.”

She reminded the audience that if marketing is done badly, it’s spam, pointing out the difference between contacting a consumer and connecting with them. A survey referenced by Smart revealed that consumers are, in general, not very interested in participating with brands online.

According to the survey, more than half of New Zealand’s population is really only interested in passively consuming brand marketing. Smart says 23 percent of Kiwis will interact with it, and five percent will provide the holy grail, user-created content. Surprisingly, less than one third of New Zealanders are influenced by their friends’ participation.

“So, we have to ask, ‘Are we doing it wrong?’” Smart says. “Is it them or is it us?”

The answer: it’s always us. Consumers are becoming resistant to and resentful of “that constant ask” from brands, says Smart, who believes it’s up to brands to “do something” for consumers, and not the other way around.

“Most consumers don’t want [a highly participatory brand experience], let alone value it,” she says. “The hype, I think, has given us a dose of temporary amnesia.”

Smart listed some particular pain points for consumers, first calling out remarketing or retargeting of ads, which is driving ad avoidance.

She also says brands’ hashtag campaigns on Twitter are increasingly being hijacked by dissatisfied customers who share negative experiences in a practice she calls “bashtagging”.

The hype around participation has distracted marketers from the “real work” of growing and building brands. When brands earn a genuine connection with consumers, Smart says, those consumers will want to participate.

Smart advised marketers to stop assuming interest from consumers: “If you want to assume anything in this digital age, assume disinterest, assume laziness.”

  • Check out the social media advice from Air New Zealand’s Cassie Roma here

TNS NZ’s client director Ian Wentworth says the key to getting shoppers to spend more was to make them happy. Their mindset is key to their shopping decisions, as is the occasion they’re shopping for.

“Would you buy home-brand chocolates for your beloved mother on her birthday?”

Making products easier to find also increases spend. Wentworth pointed out that analysis of ecommerce stores is still at a disadvantage against physical stores, explaining that while physical stores have hundreds of years’ worth of expertise and optimising strategy behind them, most ecommerce outlets have been open for less than a decade.

As 24/7 shoppers emerge, organisations need to be “device agnostic” and provide a shopping experience of the same quality across every channel.

Craig Jordan, chief digital officer at The Warehouse, echoed this point in his talk. His personal image of the omnichannel shopper involves somebody clad in their pyjamas, sitting on a swiss ball at 2am with a glass of wine, itching to buy something.

“There’s no way they’d be allowed in-store like that, but now they can shop with us,” Jordan says.

The lines between ecommerce and retail no longer exist, Jordan says, and what’s more, they’re not on customers’ radars at all.

“Have you ever stood around a barbecue on a Saturday and someone says, ‘I’ve just had this amazing omnichannel experience’?”

The Warehouse Group focuses on using its technology to operate more efficiently and maintain consistency across its platforms, Jordan says. Its newest initiatives, click and collect and endless aisles, now provide opportunities for ecommerce and retail to be brought together.

Jordan says the bar is set high for retailers as customers are being conditioned to expect exceptional digital experiences through the likes of Facebook and Google.

“They want these things all the time.”

He says The Warehouse Group expected its new digital initiatives to take off more slowly than they have done, but puts their popularity down to the increasing time poverty of working New Zealanders, and to demand from rural communities.

Jordan says technological advances aren’t evenly adopted by populations, and retailers need to cater to varying levels of familiarity. He used his 70-year-old mother as an example, speaking of how she is an avid user of her iPhone but won’t make purchases with it.

Pointing out that the hot technology trends of today is, in many cases, not as new as it appears, Jordan says the innovations of tomorrow will be based on technology that already exists.

His tips for adapting to digital technology include:

  • It’s not about online versus offline anymore, as customers just see every channel as an extension of the retailer.
  • Physical stores aren’t going anywhere, but their role is changing.
  • Refinements of innovation are going to speed up. He tips personalisation and mobile as the biggest trends: “I think we haven’t seen anything yet.”

Parts of this story originally appeared on The Register. 

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