Opinion: The new golden rule in marketing (spoiler: it's not about you)
In the past few weeks, brands have been stumbling over each other to put out commercials, email blasts and social posts as they try to adapt to the current COVID-19 crisis in real time. In truth, they will likely be forgiven for the sometimes cringe-inducing but well-intentioned ads, along with the maze of announcements around grants, support programs and fee waivers, as these are all in the name of trying to do good.
But while some companies have moved quickly to adapt both their businesses and messaging, most, including some of the largest corporations in the world, have moved slowly, taking several weeks to make simple decisions about copy, support programs or even their own products and services. When they finally have made decisions, the results may be confusing, drowned in other headlines, or even eclipsed by other companies doing the same thing first. Even big, bold announcements of billion-dollar aid programs seem to lack the details, follow-through and simple explanation required for consumers to benefit quickly.
So, why is it taking so long. And what is everyone scared about?
The answer is if you’re taking too long to make a move, you’re not doing it right. And if you’re scared, you’re coming from the wrong place.
Yes, we live in a hypersensitive environment, and yes, people are skeptical of corporate motives. A misstep can cost billions, if not your ultimate brand reputation, especially with the global financial system so immensely stretched. But making the right choice is easier than you think. It comes down to the new golden rule: Put the consumer first, no matter what.
In the past, marketers and businesses would first devise a campaign and product messaging, and then try to figure out which ones would resonate most with a target audience. Now, and for perhaps the permanent future, we must flip that equation in reverse: start by understanding your consumers and their needs—even if these are completely unrelated to your products, services or messages—and then map out your next steps from there.
Ask yourself first, not just who your consumer is, but what do they want, even if unrelated to your brand? Just because you’re a telecom, doesn’t mean you should focus on phones. Just because you’re a car company, doesn’t mean you should only worry about vehicles and monthly payments. You need to understand the person behind the phone and the car, and not because you’re trying to construct a psychograph. Do it because you care about who they are.
Then, and only then, can you reevaluate your products, services and messaging to see if any are an authentic and natural fit for those consumer needs. If not, let them go. Yes, it’s hard to do, but that’s the world we live in today.
Today is not about intention. And it’s not about who can outbid the other person for the most aid, or pull the most tears with an ad. It’s no longer about contextual targeting, or intention. It’s about one thing, and one thing only: Caring. Truly caring about people.
It’s a simple three-step process:
1. What do my consumers need right now? Be aware, it may not even relate to your products or services just yet. That’s ok.
2. How do I provide what my consumers need, even if it’s not my usual line of business? Verizon, for example, is feeding emergency responders with meals from small-business restaurants; LVMH is making hand sanitizer; Hermes is sewing personal protection equipment.
3. Finally, if you’ve truly solved a need, and made a difference, do you have a message or product that connects authentically to that activity? Put the consumer need first and then if you have a message, product, or service that relates, create a journey that allows consumers to draw those connections on their own, in their own vocabulary. There’s no need to shout from the rooftop if you’ve paved the right road.
There are a lot of businesses composing presentation after presentation; fretting in board rooms about the latest brief to their ad agency; and putting out hastily announced aid programs without proper explanation. But what they need to be doing first is asking one simple question: who is my audience, and what do they need? The new golden rule is putting consumers absolutely first. Business, and profits, will follow.