By Grace Sinclair, Loyalty Strategy Director at Merkle
As cancel culture becomes more embedded in society, the foundation of ethical values it promotes are increasingly being recognised in commercial contexts. Emotionally led decision factors such as ethical sourcing and sustainability are now coming to the forefront and becoming more mainstream purchase drivers. As these factors are further promoted through digital and social media channels, we start to see shifts in purchase drivers progressing rapidly and at times relatively unpredictably across industries.
So how did we get here?
Historically we thought of purchase decisions being made up of four primary factors: price, convenience, brand reputation, and product quality. Individuals will have naturally leant towards a prioritised view of these based on context and their personal circumstances, and purchase decisions are then based on a rational assessment of the product options.
However, the growth of digital has enabled both a lower barrier of entry for new businesses and a greater breadth and availability of product information through online product reviews and copy. This has resulted in significantly greater consumer choice as well as the surfacing of more micro-considerations in consumers’ decision-making processes. As product options expand and information on these micro-considerations becomes more readily available and elevated through digital channels, customers can often be faced with more decision elements than are reasonable to rationally process for each purchase decision. As such, we see a move back to more ‘gut feel’ decisions, driven increasingly by more emotional factors.
To stay ahead of the curve, businesses need to consider not only their ethical responsibilities but also how these are communicated in an emotionally engaging way. Done right, this should also allow faster response in the face of new challenges and value considerations.
Alignment to consumer values and ethics
It is now more important than ever to remain mindful of the lower-level factors that sit behind customers’ core considerations. Is it the lowest price available while still offering an ethical supply chain process? Is the end-to-end purchase experience convenient or if something goes wrong can I expect a bad experience while trying to get it resolved? Does the brand promote positive societal activities as well as business practices? Is the product built in a sustainable manner? By monitoring engagement with marketing and content aligned to specific values, businesses can track and forecast the scale of impact those purchase drivers are having on customer acquisition and retention. This should also be compiled with regular market tracking and consumer insights to ensure new trends are captured and accounted for.
Since Marketing is one of the departments most directly engaging with customers, marketeers should consider their role in promoting and monitoring how actively these factors are being addressed within the business and what impact this therefore has on content planning and strategy. To ensure the messaging shared is both forward thinking and credible, marketing teams should be working closely with business sustainability and development teams to ensure ongoing alignment to consumer trends and maximise the value recognised from positive shifts in business practices.
Engaging communication of value-based features
As the breadth of decision-making factors expands, we see an increase in the variation of primary decision factors considered by different customers. Overwhelming customers with every business update that isn’t relevant to them risks them becoming irritated with the brand. Personalised marketing is therefore more important than ever in ensuring that you present consumers with a truly compelling reason to purchase. By sharing consistent and credible value messaging aligned to known customer values, businesses are able to build stronger customer relationships based on a foundation of shared values and ultimately recognise increased customer loyalty.
The continued evolution of these decision factors also means that it’s important to have marketing teams operating in an agile way to enable them to react quickly to the changing landscape, adapting both content and audience creation to maintain ongoing relevancy. Creating a more dynamic marketing strategy designed to deliver continued alignment to your customers’ values will help maintain customer loyalty over the long term.
Since emotions drive a much stronger response than rational thoughts, it’s critical that businesses are able to respond to escalating negative sentiment at pace to minimise damage to the brand position. This means implementing the right measurement, team structure, and processes to facilitate an agile response that spans all relevant business teams, from product and operations to PR and marketing. Brands should ensure access to ongoing tracking and measurement that monitor brand health metrics such as brand sentiment and engagement. Alongside this, they should also have a pre-established crisis response team with sufficient authority and autonomy to plan and execute strategic responses to brand crisis situations as needed.
Successful execution across these three pillars can lead to benefits both in acquisition and retention. Improved brand sentiment and advocacy can in turn lead to higher brand recognition, while aligned values can deliver increased customer loyalty. All of these factors help to avoid the cancel culture mentality that has affected a number of brands, as mentioned in our previous article. Showing that you understand the customer and their motivations is beneficial to the overall brand perception and allows you as a business to focus on what’s most important to the customer.