Managing Partner MullenLowe Profero
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Empathy has been destroyed in a race for sales

2nd Nov 2021
Managing Partner MullenLowe Profero
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Customer-centricity is becoming less of a genuine focus as brands face increasing pressure to drive the next sale. So, how is this affecting customer relationships, and what approach should brands take instead? 

Advances in marketing technology have provided brands with a full range of tools to win customer loyalty through better, more relevant and human digital experiences, alongside improved insights into the ROI of these activities. However, the coronavirus pandemic has caused many consumers to reflect on their choices and question their former loyalty. The result is fewer signals and a lack of understanding from businesses around the needs and feelings of their customers, leading them to instead focus more on what they can comprehend: the next sale. And, while this approach can generate short-term financial success and shareholder value, it's becoming less effective and could even damage their relationships with customers in the long run. 

Brands need to put the customer back where they belong to succeed. Their needs must be considered alongside the business’ and answered through any communications and customer journeys.

The importance of a fair value exchange 

Consumers expect brands to keep up with the latest tech and have grown used to digital experiences tailored to their wants and needs. Our recent report: Ecommerce in the aftermath, identified that UK brands risk losing up to £12bn in UK online sales from poor digital experiences. It found that 24% of consumers were frustrated with a brand that didn't seem to understand them. Nearly a quarter of them (23%) also said that they preferred brands that use their data to create a more meaningful, relevant experience over brands that don't ask for personal data at all.

To put this into context, I recently bought a dress for my daughter from a well-known high street brand. I was pleased with the dress, but not the barrage of irrelevant recommendations that followed afterwards. At this point, the trust was broken, and I swiftly opted out of comms. 

In a world of GDPR and the approaching cookieless world, a fair value exchange and the trust that a brand won't misuse a person's data will be critical. Otherwise, consumers will simply leverage all the tools at their disposal (including Apple's IOS 15 random email generator) to disengage. Worse still, brand loyalty will dissipate, and they will swiftly shift to use another brand instead. Consumers must be treated with respect, and they will reward that by coming back. 

Brands can seamlessly combine empathetic content, data and technology

To genuinely connect with consumers requires a deeper understanding of their changing attitudes and behaviours: their wants, needs, goals. It requires us to communicate on a much more personal level and, just like any relationship, show humanity and empathy whenever there’s communication. Successful brands will combine tech and creativity seamlessly. By bringing together IT, data, and marketing teams, they can create an empathetic strategy leveraging all the tools at their disposal to triumph. 

A good example of this is the work we’ve done over the last few years with the NHS. Last year, the NHS faced its biggest challenge ever: filling 100,000 vacancies across 350 careers. Prospective applicants lacked confidence, so to help them feel more self-assured,  the NHS needed to understand them on a deeper emotional level.  For the team at MullenLowe Profero, this involved us getting under the skin of applicants' motivations, hesitations, interests and career timings. Using newly enhanced data creation tactics,  we were able to access unique insights into each prospective applicant. This was then converted into a curated CRM programme to guide them through a potentially daunting journey. 

Harley-Davidson is another example. After decades of brand love and unwavering loyalty, Harley-Davidson was under pressure to drive sales and retain its customer base.  The brand wished to reconnect with hundreds of thousands of Harley prospects around the world.  We realised that to do so, the timings of new bike communications to riders needed to be reshaped, removing the inevitable nuisance of receiving an email like this when you're just not ready for it. Instead, we wanted to identify the sweet spot when consumers were genuinely in the market for one. Although this would have been relatively straightforward with finance data, this wasn't available, so we had to think a little more laterally.

An analysis of the buying behaviours at a market and customer level, paired with customer profile data led to an Estimated Renewal Date for every customer. This helped to determine the most relevant date to trigger the first email for a new bike.

Marketers should look to overhaul email content to avoid a one size-fits-all approach. In the case of Harley-Davidson, the focus of these emails was repositioned to highlight the emotions and feelings surrounding the brand's iconic culture, like its heritage, the music, and ride-outs. The bike recommendation engine algorithm helped to predict the three most likely bikes each person would purchase, and only those would be shown across all communications. Once a customer showed interest in one particular model, the prioritisation of bikes would dynamically change across all communications, improving relevance and conversions.

This new focus on more human, relevant content resulted in overwhelming interest from potential consumers. By treating every rider as an individual, Harley retained their relevance with fans around the world.

Meaningful relationships will translate into genuine loyalty

Individual product sales rarely make money, so brands must gain customer loyalty in the form of subscriptions or repeat purchases if they want any chance of achieving profitable growth. 

To do this, marketers need to reconnect with consumers as a starting point when building a case for change. Only once they understand their customers' needs, motivations and desires can they tailor their personality and energy to interact more effectively. A fair value exchange and trust between brands and consumers will also result in more access to consumer data, enabling further personalisation and tailored experiences. If they're willing to do this, they'll start seeing the lifetime value that every brand desires from their customers.  

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