New marketing reality depends on brand experience

Doreen Wang
Global Head of BrandZ
Kantar Millward Brown

Consumer reviews influence more purchase decisions

Marketing is about to shift fundamentally. Brand awareness, the primary goal of most marketers, is rapidly being replaced by the need to deliver a consistent and seamless consumer experience of their product or service. Soon, the power of consumer reviews will become as impactful as advertising campaigns.

This dramatic evolution is being driven by structural shifts in the way consumers shop and the way marketers work. Simply put, there’s greater emphasis on extending online to offline experiences. Even Amazon, the original e-commerce giant, has moved into offline with its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods. Alibaba’s recent acquisition of Ele.me, the biggest chunk of Chinese online food delivery, enhances Alibaba’s ‘last-mile’ ability to get parcels to customers’ doorsteps and complements its neighbourhood services business.

There’s also more emphasis on reducing the friction on the path to purchase. Alibaba, for example, now runs 4S stores where you can rent or buy a car using a smartphone, without interacting with another human. Make your selection and the car will be delivered to the store’s parking area.

App-powered, real-world shopping, as tested by Amazon’s pre-Whole Foods retail experiments, will become increasingly common. Then there’s the whole ecosystem experience that sees key players, such as Amazon, Apple, Alibaba and Tencent, taking a bigger role in the places where and the ways in which consumers interact with brands. As these companies expand across different areas like delivery, hardware, media, video and music, and encourage consumers to make the last mile of the purchase journey, their roles will only increase.

Facebook is also seeking to go down this path, offering integrated calls to action from its mobile pages that enable consumers to schedule, order, or buy without leaving the company’s page. The goal is to make everything as simple as possible for consumers. By being everywhere their consumers are, brand marketers can make their relationships as seamless as possible, online and offline. Getting it right means ensuring there are no differences in how consumers experience their brand in the offline or digital world.

Collectively, these changes create a new reality where purchase decisions are increasingly made based on consumer reviews. If I want to buy a new face cream on Amazon, for example, I am presented with a list of heritage brands as well as new niche players with far less history to fall back on.

All products are presented with equal prominence and what differs between them is only the consumer reviews. Whereas the likes of Lancôme might be able to exploit their established power in other media channels and in department store environments, on ecosystem platforms, the differentiator is the consumer reviews.

We may not trust niche brands before we try them, but we trust Amazon or Alibaba and their users to tell it like it is. Four thousand or more reviews can’t be wrong, and they might even encourage us to sample something new –allowing brands with vastly different resources to compete.

The experience evolution

The growing power of the experience economy changes the role that marketing needs to play. The relationship between consumer and brand changes when it becomes all about the experience rather than just building awareness and pushing people down the purchase funnel. That’s why brands and businesses are rightly putting so much emphasis on their Trustpilot or TripAdvisor scores, and why an increasing amount of creative now features consumer reviews or tweets.

The starting point of this journey is understanding how the interaction between the product and brand communications—in all its forms— can strengthen the brand experience and the peer consumer experience. Offline stores have already become part of that journey for online brands such as Amazon, and retail is changing for offline brands too.

Nordstrom, for example, is turning its mini-department store outlets into entertainment centers that allow consumers to step into a brand’s world and get manicures and advice from stylists before having goods delivered to their homes. The risk is that this strategy could turn the retailer into another Toys R Us—a playground where no one buys anything. In 2017, Toys R Us had to file for bankruptcy in the US and Canada.

Ultimately, alongside this shift to retail experiences, brands also need to form digital partnerships, not just with Amazon but everywhere. A brand that is strongly positioned on multiple digital platforms is best placed to survive and thrive. Toys R Us famously refused to collaborate with Amazon but others, such as Nike, have not been so blind. In 2017, the brand started selling products on the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

The experience revolution is coming and it’s coming fast. The consumer journey of the future is already being established and it’s up to marketers and their brands to adapt. Let’s make it an experience to remember.

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