Evolution of classic marketing strategies reflects adaptations to consumers’ general distrust of brands

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty / Natee Meepian
Source: Getty / Natee Meepian
Effective branding traditionally has empowered, inspired and informed consumers, but in the current era of distrust and heightened anxiety branding needs to evolve to account for consumers’ rising self-reliance, increasingly rational approach and their access to seemingly boundless information, according to one strategic communications expert.

Emily Valentine, director of insights and strategy and the communications firm Padilla explained to attendees at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s annual Science Forum in Washington, DC, late last month that the discord that characterized 2018 has left many consumers feeling timid, depressed, tense and distrustful of many of the institutions on which they once relied – which is changing the way they relate to brands and their own purchasing power.

As a result, she pointed to three emerging trends that are reshaping effective branding: IM’powerment, inspiRATION and techKNOWLEDGEy.

The evolution of empowerment to IM’powerment

The first trend of IM’powerment has evolved out of distrust generated in 2018 by a divisive political and financial environment, Valentine said, noting that one survey found consumer trust in institutions at an all-time low since 2000. 

“We are in kind of a bad place trust wise,”​ and “when trust in institutions drop, people begin to reconsider who is responsible … for looking out for their best interest. And the consensus today is that it is individuals,”​ Valentine said.

This means people are holding themselves – and brands – accountable, she explained. And as a result, she said the old notion of ‘empowerment’ is evolving into ‘IM’powerment.’

“One thing … that is fueling IM’powerment today is the fact that we have unprecedented access to channels to share our opinions immediately and we don’t need a microphone, we don’t need permission, we just need an Internet connection,”​ she said.

With this increased access to voice opinions comes an increased expectation that people and brands will take action, Valentine said.

“We asked a panel of 500 Americans about this and 85% agree that everyone has the right to voice their opinions … and nearly 70% believe everyone has a duty to voice their opinions,” ​Valentine said.

She added what this means for brands is that “it is better to have a strong set of values and opinions and risk ticking some people off then to have a weak or pandering set.”

For example, she pointed to recent actions by influential icons, such as Colin Kaepernick, who are publicly committing acts of empowerment or reinventing or illuminating them, and the brands, such as Nike, that support them.

“Another way we are seeing IM’powerment play out is through the evolving dynamics around personal data and that includes personal nutrition, health and fitness day. So, we are starting to see a number of startup tech brands create mutually agreeable marketplaces for user generated data where individuals really control the value of their own data and how it is used,”​ she said.

Consumers meter inspiration with rationality 

Closely related to the rise in IM’powerment is the emergence of inspiRATION – which is a more rational twist on classic inspiration that is grounded in the general awakening of consumers, Valentine said.

“Inspiration in the original sense of sacred revelation is something’ you’d be lucky to experience once in a lifetime. It is not really something most of us experience regularly,”​ and yet people are looking for it in the mundane – suggesting they are taking a more rational approach to inspiration, she said.

This is playing out in part through the movement to be more transparent and ‘authentic,’ she said, noting that another poll conducted by Padilla found 90% of consumers said they appreciate people who are honest about their flaws and 86% appreciate companies that are honest about their shortcomings.

Hand in hand with this is being relatable, as illustrated by the poll’s finding that 70% of consumers are attracted to products in advertisements that feature a person or a scene to which they relate.

“People are really looking for similar traits from companies that they want of the people in their lives: straight talk, humanity and acceptance of laws,”​ she said.

As such, she add, “we are seeing people continue to give less and less weight to what the outer world, the extrinsic world, tells them is important and placing more weight on what their own inner world tells them is important.”

Self-policing key to techKNOWLEDGEY trend

As consumers become more self-aware they also are starting to reconsider the role of technology in their lives – both what they can learn from it and what it learns from them, Valentine said.

“People’s technological behaviors are very much shifting alongside their values and that is going to change how we find and connect with and keep audiences engaged,”​ she said.

She explained that while many people are nervous about the impact of technology on their lives they are overall optimistic that it will bring more benefit than harm as long as they can have a say in how it is used.

“Our role as brand marketers and as people trying to motivate consumers is not to tell them they are right or wrong, but to really help facilitate, enable and coax them along,”​ which is something that technology does well, Valentine said.  

Ultimately, all three of these shifting trends will heavily influence marketing in all its forms in 2019 and effective brand managers will find ways to balance them all so that they better connect with consumers in a way that can rebuild the currently lost trust.

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