When it comes to emerging media, much of the rest of the world is far ahead of the United States. It’s not emerging elsewhere around theworld; it’s already established as part of the culture.
While most of us already know this, it became glaringly obvious during the recent Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit in Istanbul. Speaker after speaker from around the globe made the point through their case studies and stories. The smart people at Capgemini shared a study that reported significant differences between shoppers in developing markets and those in mature markets, like the US. In developing markets, digital-savvy, social shoppers are using technologies in all phases of the shopping journey. According to Capgemini, two-thirds of consumers are interested in finding out about new products via social media.
In mature markets, however, consumers take more of a value-seeker approach in their use of digital media. They’re more interested in information on functional issues, like price and delivery. Surprisingly, fewer than half of shoppers in mature markets care to use social media and blogs to learn about new products.
Capgemini attributes these differences, in part, to a lack of an established retail infrastructure or shopper-marketing processes in developing markets. Consumers, consequently, are more engaged with consumer products companies through digital channels. They are much quicker to try the latest tools, formats and technologies than those in mature markets.
Consumer products companies in developing markets, in turn, are as focused on introducing innovations based on consumer relationships as they are on launching new products. To them, it’s not about the technology; it’s about the consumer and the shopper.
Most observers, including myself, believe it is just a matter of time before consumers in mature markets like the United States behave more like those in developing markets. I’m reminded of the classic quote from science fiction novelist William Gibson, who said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” That was in 1993.
Catching Up With Our Consumers
The real question is not whether mature-market consumers will catch up; it’s whether mature-market brands are truly ready for the changes that are already upon us. The issue is less about digital media and the many exciting technologies and opportunities and more about the state of marketing and branding. The challenge has less to do with emerging media than it does emerging consumer behavior.
Too often, we manage brands and marketing in a mechanical, linear fashion with the entire focus on the same old thing: delivering a message to a consumer. That’s no longer good enough.
We typically think of digital as an independent and isolated medium, though that has been changing of late. We need to accelerate that thinking because it’s precisely the opposite: It’s about making connections. Marketing used to be about vehicles and channels, but now it’s about platforms and networks. In today’s world, brands must be part of our consumers’ daily, digitized lives. Marketing’s goal is no longer about being integrated; it’s now about being networked.
Accordingly, brands must provide a networked experience to consumers and shoppers. This requires, in part, an understanding of how consumers and shoppers are using devices and media to make decisions in their daily lives, and using that understanding to develop new products, improve current ones and create marketing programs. It also means shifting from a focus on products and features over to the social context of their lives as consumers.
In this emerging environment, building brands is all about relationships — between consumers and each other and between consumers and brands. The context is no longer just marketing, which is a relatively small world. The context is now also society itself, and the implications of that are full of challenges and opportunities for brands. Ultimately, the value of the brand is a function of the value of its place in society, which is largely based on the relationships it creates. The charge for brands is no longer just to complete transactions; it is to network friendships.
Instead of centering on outbound messaging, the mandate is to create a framework and a methodology for bonding with consumers and shoppers and keeping the conversation fluid. Any organization that is still messaging like a marketer instead of listening like a friend may be fine for a while, but ultimately it will lose because increasingly consumers are making their brand decisions based on social experiences.
The emerging opportunity is not just to design an app, create a mobile site or a viral video, although it might include some or all of these things. It is first to collect signals, get feedback, gather data and gain insight into what consumers want and need, what their values are, figure out where you fit in and how you can help. The most significant aspect of this is not the technology itself as much as it is the ability to use it to relate to consumers and build those relationships in better and more lasting ways.
Simulating Social Ecosytems
The coolest part is that technology can enable us to understand what makes these relationships tick by simulating social ecosystems and predicting their effect on brands — up to and including sales. It is possible to simulate the entire environment: population dynamics; constraints; economic factors and influences. We can then place a virtual consumer into a virtual community where they make purchases based on experiencing brands and connecting with each other.
The simulated market contains data-driven representations of interactions with brick-and-mortar, call centers, ecommerce, and their exposure to both paid and earned media. It also factors in the effects of social networks and word-of-mouth activities.
The simulated consumer decisions are influenced in multiple ways (see chart above). We can look at their affinities, awareness, perceptions, interactions, connectivity, influence and the ability of any given touchpoint to alter all of the above. We can then apply a decision-making algorithm that matches the way they actually make choices.
We then know whom to target, what to say, where to say it and how to invest in it. We can now solve brand problems — and not just emerging media or digital problems. We can build energy for the brand franchise, determine which products and formats are best to launch and which programs are likely to be most effective at retail.
Marketing becomes networking within the consumer’s network. Predictive simulation can be used to test different scenarios to better understand and influence emerging behavior in our digital world and create a bond with our consumers. Of course, we also need to understand how retailers are approaching digital and bond with them, too, because retailers are an important part of the network.
What we are building is a model that cements quantifiable brand data (economic inputs) with unquantifiable consumer and shopper behavior (societal influences and social networks) to create a predictive platform for brand equity and sales in a networked world.
This enables us to do what-if scenarios to test potential decisions in a low-risk environment. The outputs show us how our choices affect brand awareness, brand equity, return-on-investment, media effectiveness and sales. Our what-if questions will generate outputs that help us forecast the results of possible plans and develop informed marketing strategies.
The bond we create is between being able to understand where to play and how to win, understanding our consumers and how to communicate with them, and then using mathematics to target our efforts and build stronger relationships.
If we do all of that — and we are doing it — by the time the Hub’s “emerging media” issue comes out next year, it won’t be about “emerging media” anymore. It will be about networking brands based on emerging consumer behavior.