“I really want to be an advocate for individuality and encourage people to be sensitive to their own needs and to stand up for their own truth, even if someone else is telling them what they should do or how it should feel - to own their own experience above all others.” Sadie Nardini
Today’s Lens: How will a brand determine its marketing mix as consumer segmentation races to a consumer-of-one?
Enough has been written about how the advent of the internet and social media has enabled consumers to interact with brands on-demand and in real time - where every consumer matters (or at the very least has the tools to behave as if they do). This rise of the “consumer-of-one”, as I’m proposing here, presents brand managers with several questions (not exhaustive): Which of the multitude of touchpoints (media vehicles or platforms) best capture eye-share? For which product/brand does “it” work best? For whom and when does “it” work best? And ultimately, will the resulting engagement translate to sales at the register (physical or online)?
Despite the evolution of consumer behavior traditional CPGs, large-scale advertisers, and brand managers therein are struggling to gain traction generally due to two big obstacles: 1) How to segment the consumer-of-one and 2) how to efficiently structure media buys that engage the consumer-of-one?
Consumer segmentation has become even more critical, and infinitely more difficult, than before. Even as I write about it, the word “segmentation” may not work anymore. More aptly named “consumer individualization”: where each consumer is a segment of one, where every consumer is demanding a unique experience, and where every consumer has the potential to engage and disrupt the brand's originally intended message. And that is the challenge for brand managers and brand marketing professionals today: how do you “do marketing” at the individual level?
The short answer is that you can’t. It’s simply not cost effective to develop content or marketing campaigns for every single purchasing household in America; it’s even more frightening (or exhilarating) to think about the global consumer-of-one. The answer I believe is dispersed brand marketing: where content marketing matters more (yes, I’m jumping on the bandwagon), where user generated and crowdsourced content matter more, where brands generate the stimulus and then get out of the way.
Granted, the concept of dispersed brand marketing basically puts me out of a job, but since consumers are making up their own mind (or not) about brands anyway, why not "give" the brands to them? Let consumers use whatever platform they prefer to blast out the brand's promise, message, or character (aka brand communication strategy).
Unfortunately, before a brand is able to release control, own less, and influence more, big box brands often then run into an advertising system that is also grappling with the consumer-of-one digitized consumption model.
Cannonballs, Bullets, Rocks, and Darts
Today’s advertising system faces a problem of inertia where it “has erected an ecosystem with ingrained systems, relationships and methodologies that are ill-equipped to fighting the challenges of the digital era.” Traditional CPGs and large-scale advertisers especially struggle with how to invest in platforms and micro-targeted vehicles, versus the efficiency gained by large-scale bulk media buys recommended by their agencies of record.
For example, at an industry expo/conference I attended a while ago, the concept of “bullets then cannonballs” was posited. Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Global Brand Building Officer, instructed all of the marketing professionals and brand managers in the theater to “shoot multiple bullets (small marketing campaigns) to see if we get any hits, then when we do, blast them with cannonballs (big marketing campaigns, scaled across multiple brands)”. At the time, it made sense: test often, scale the winners. After reflection however, and given the rapid and constantly evolving consumer-of-one, I don’t think we need ever go to the cannonball phase for several reasons:
Net, brands don’t need cannonballs; to continue the analogy, instead brands need a steady stream of bullets, rocks, and virus-tipped darts. Furthermore, brands should consider giving the bullets, rocks, and darts to the consumers themselves. Big brands (and their big agencies) should carve out marketing dollars to experiment more with small campaigns co-created with and on platforms that the consumers dictate. Brands can explode the advocacy moment of truth by ensuring consumers are able to engage with (and possibly co-create) every piece of content the brand publishes (beyond adding a “like us” or “tweet this” or “buy it now” button). The empowered consumer-of-one will thank you for it figuratively (i.e. brand advocacy, amplification) and literally (i.e. sales).
Other thought nuggets:
So, what else?
During my brief stint as an adjunct professor many years ago, I recall that half of my students had dreams of one day starting their own business. One of my favorite parts of the teaching night was when I presented a random idea and asked the students to put on the brainstorm lens - "what else could you do with this...". Most of the time we would end up in the realm of the zany. Sometimes, however, we would actually land on something achievable and plant the seed. This is an homage to ideas - zany or otherwise.