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How to connect brands with customers, using agile approaches, across different markets

Ray Poynter
April 28, 2021
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Scenario planners use the term VUCA to describe situations like the one we find ourselves in today. We are in Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous times. The old normal has been swept aside, business as usual is not an option, brands and organisations need to adapt. The key to thriving in these VUCA times is to focus on three key elements:

1. Bridging the gaps between brands and customers

2. Using agile approaches to deliver results in quicker and more relevant ways

3. Dealing with distances, differences and diversity; for example, domestic versus international, B2C versus B2B, or online versus in-person.

In this post, I look at these three themes and the ways that insights and research can help brands succeed in these strange times.

Bridging the gaps between brands and customers

Now, more than ever, brands need to connect with customers. The pandemic, and the financial pressures it has brought, means that organisations need to show empathy with their customers. It is important to remember, as marketing guru Mark Ritson points out “The first rule of marketing is you are not the customer”. Brand managers, marketers and insight professionals need research to understand their customers’ lives and to develop empathy.

Your community is the key to understanding customers; its longitudinal approach allows you to see changes, its rapid and low-cost responses allow you to test even small ideas, and its focus on human experience allows you to explore more than just the relationship with you brand. Brands have used their communities to find out how their members have been dealing with the lockdowns, changes in work, changes in shopping, and how they have consumed news and information.

Creating agile solutions

In VUCA times, traditional methods of planning are inadequate to the task facing brands and organisations. What is needed is the application of agile and interactive solutions. The key for insight teams to remember about agile is that there is no such thing as ‘agile research in isolation’. Agile research is simply part of a larger agile/interactive picture, where different teams work together to create an agile approach.

A great example of this agile research in synthesis with other teams was given by Eric Lennartz, in a recent Potentiate Powering Human Experience Podcast. Eric is Head of Market intelligence at the German insurance agency ERGO. The German auto market is in decline in total, making the market for motor insurance highly competitive. In the Podcast, Eric outlines how ERGO identified that lower prices were not a solution to the market changes. Instead, they showed that understanding customer needs could provide a solution. Utilising their community, the insights team worked iteratively with the product development team, testing ideas at every stage. The result was a product that has gained market share two years in a row, whilst other leading brands have lost share.

In a modern organisation, insight teams need to integrate with other teams to facilitate being agile. This means working iteratively, taking ideas and testing them with consumers, providing concrete feedback and recommendations to the team. A process that often means doing less research, but more often.

Dealing with distances, differences and diversity

Most organisations have adopted the message that the customer should be at the centre of what they do. However, the danger with this concept is that organisations can start to think of customers as if they were a single block, with a single experience and set of needs. Brands need to recognise distances, differences and diversity.

For example, we know that engaging millennials (in terms of products and insights) is different from dealing with seniors. People need to connect in ways that work for them, that listen to their needs and respond accordingly. When you focus on the human experience, rather than the product or service experience, recognising distances, differences, and diversity become much easier.

A great example of catering for differences was highlighted by Ysaline Lannoy of Nestlé Belgium when she talked about their ConsoL@b community in a recent Potentiate webinar. Although Belgium is a relatively small country, it has three distinct language groups; French, Dutch and German, each with their own culture and food preferences. The insights community run by Nestlé facilitates and encompasses these differences, building a bridge across the distances.

In Summary

Thriving in times of VUCA means tackling these three issues:

1. Bridge the gap between the brand and its customers, use the community to walk a mile in your customers’ shoes.

2. Facilitate your organisation being agile, by integrating with other teams and working iteratively.

3. Recognise distances, differences, and diversity. People do not all want the same thing, they do not all want to be treated in the same way, and they respond to different approaches.

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