Monday, December 7, 2015

Marketing to Today’s “Super-Hero” Customer

By Jennifer Davis
Vice President, Marketing

A lot has been written about consumer-centric marketing in recent years.  The desire to provide relevant content and position the brand in the context of that value.  Seth Godin’s permission marketing principles.  The move to personalization.  The emotional attachment that brands should create for their customers.  Across all communication channels and at every customer touch point.

Today’s empowered consumer doesn’t just want to be educated.  They don’t just want to be engaged.  Frankly, they want to be super heroes.  They want to be the heroes of their own story and the brands they choose reinforce this perspective. They want to call a car whenever they need it, like the Batmobile, and the adoption of Uber and Lyft is evidence that the on-demand concept is appealing.  They want to have their whims indulged.  They want their news personalized and curated.  They want to keep up with friends of their choosing.

As marketers we have a responsibility to build the customer experience into the core of our company’s DNAs and into every medium or channel through which we communicate. So, how can customers be granted super powers in our marketing? 

First and foremost, today’s buyers must remain in control.  Our terms of service, privacy policies, product quality, production practices, and priorities must align with what customers want.  We start with our integrity when building trust.  I know that many customers might relinquish control without a second thought, but it’s our job not to let them do themselves harm. 

Secondly, we create opportunities for customers to have power on a scale that they couldn’t have without us.  Today’s savvy consumers are impressed with nothing less than super human strength and the ability to fly.  They want to see their name on a can of Coca-Cola.  We help them place a message on a personalized M&M.  We can put their picture on a billboard in Times Square.  We can put a mark on the world.  One that is unique to them. 

This can be part of the product or service we are selling or it can it be something we do in our marketing.  The distinction between the two is blurring and so is the customer’s experience of the brand across all the touchpoints, so marketing has a leadership responsibility.  For instance, the new iPhone camera takes beautiful, high resolution photos and video.  Why not build on the out-of-home ad campaign we have seen where photographs from iPhone users are printed on subway signs and billboards with the caption “taken with an iPhone” by creating a YouTube/Vimeo/Flickr style platform for sharing videos and photos taken with iPhones and have those images featured on the Apple site, social media, and digital billboards and in homes as an Apple TV screen saver? 

Next, we can connect customers visibly within the community.  We can give them something to brag about and some connection to their idols and friends.  It starts with sharing features, but goes beyond that.  We as market leading brands need to make our consumer constituents heros among their peers.  We can provide customers street credibility or expand their influence.  It’s the Apple sticker in the Macintosh boxes on Volkswagens across the country or the look of a teenager wearing Beats headphones by Dr. Dre around his neck.  I see this as a gap in store and airline loyalty programs.  Members with elite status aren’t given rewards that are visible to the community of other shoppers or guests that undoubtedly share other circles of influence.

It is also a limitation with the nearly ubiquitous category of hybrid cars.  Imagine hybrid cars connected with a gamification system that allows one driver to compete with others for fuel efficiency.  Similar to how FitBit users can track steps on a leader board.  Imagine how many more fuel efficient cars would be sold with this kind of gamification?

Consumer fashion brands do this well by offering sponsorships or free product to highly influential individuals, but could that scale to something that other brands could do even if they don’t have a celebrity endorsement program or a full-scale newsroom?  I imagine so, if we were creative in our marketing.

Lastly, we can give customers a mission.  As marketers, we give our customers an opportunity to be involved in greater causes and the power to benefit others with their super powers.  This is what Whole Foods has done with the wooden nickels for “bring your own bag” rewards or Starbucks involvement in (Red).  You could allow customers to donate a perks to non-profits of their choice.  Loyal customers could be allowed to pick charitable giving campaigns from their favorite brands.  Customers could donate their photos from their Hawaii vacation to be featured in the advertising or on the website of the visitor’s bureau for the State. At Planar Systems we recently offered our customers and employees an opportunity to participate in a fun run in Portland, to benefit a local alternative high school.  This example of the “do well, by doing good” approach which is growing in importance and influence among our customers.

With a purposeful emphasis on integrity, giving users power, community connections, and missional marketing, we can transform our customers into the super heroes that will not only show us loyalty, but will attract others to us.

Jennifer serves as the Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy at Planar Systems, a leader in differentiated display systems and digital signage with offices in North America, Europe, and Asia. Jennifer can be found @jenniferdavis on Twitter and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin/in/jenniferbdavis.