Our global consciousness is growing. Whether it’s the Syrian uprising covered 24/7 on CNN or protests in Iran arranged via Twitter, traditional as well as new media forms — along with the myriad devices we use to get connected — ensure that our need for constant access is being met. Furthermore, thanks largely to Facebook, there are only 4.5 degrees of separation between any two people anywhere on the planet. With the world continuing to proverbially shrink, is it really any surprise that today’s consumers crave a personalized touch more than ever before? Everything from smartphones to Twitter points to us being as interconnected as possible. Translation: we want people (and in this case, yes, companies are people, too) to know who we are.
With more than one billion Facebook users, we only have to look at online social media activity to confirm that humans want interactions with friends or mere acquaintances to be a click away. Religions, political parties, and nation-states have tapped into this need and fulfilled it by giving many people a sense of personal belonging. Companies have the chance to do the same. So show your customers that you truly have a personal interest in them and they’ll be loyal forever.
Mass marketing is dead. The traditional gross rating points (GRP) measurement has been replaced by content rating points (CRP). GRP focuses on how many consumers are reached, throwing out a huge net because the more caught the better. CRP knows that content is king, and that how something is being advertised — as well as who it is being advertised to — will actually garner more brand loyalty in the long run.
The Knowledge of Friends and Strangers
We can glean something about what information consumers are likely to trust, and therefore their buying habits, if we look at certain statistics. A 2009 Nielsen study on global advertising found that 90 percent of people have some form of trust in recommendations from people they know. Perhaps this isn’t all that shocking. However, the next most trusted form of advertising was consumer opinions posted online. In other words, 70 percent of consumers are likely to take advice from total strangers. And so, with the success of brand information accessible on the Internet, the online revolution continues to grow.
Online Personalization in Action
Because most consumers have access to the Internet, it’s an opportunity for companies to streamline their advertising in this direction. Consumers are intelligently challenging marketing departments to find the most user-friendly and personal way to advertise. The same Nielsen survey mentioned above showed that only 33 percent of people trust online banner ads. Ads in search engine results and even brand emails that customers had actually signed up for didn’t fare much better.
So what’s an ad campaign to do? Evolve. And there are remarkably savvy ways some companies are going about this via apps and websites. It’s all about bridging the gap between surfing and shopping. Many e-commerce sites are using editorial-style content to broaden their buyer base. Sites are using bloggers and reporters to write about products, driving readers to make purchasing decisions based on content.
The fashion world is excelling at engaging readers with content, and then closing the loop between inspiration and purchase. ShopBazaar (Harper’s Bazaar’s eCommerce site) maintains slideshows and features on current trends and looks chosen by editors, but it also allows browsers to add products to a shopping cart from within the editorials. There’s no need to go directly to the specific retailer, find the item, and finally purchase. Every step of the process is housed on the site.
Then there’s the Go Try It On iPhone app that lets people share photos of themselves with other users who can give them feedback about various outfits. It’s an attempt to solve the “what should I wear?” dilemma. What makes Go Try It On so revolutionary is that users can actually buy items in the looks shared by others, as well as read featured stories created by retailers, brands, and bloggers. Go Try It On makes money through commission and brand sponsorships.
Finally, we have Chirpify, perhaps the most seamless inspiration-to-purchase app out there. Users can purchase things directly from their Twitter and Instagram feeds, simply by typing the word “buy” into the reply or comment space. Soon, the words “shopping” and “socializing” will be synonymous. If you’re skeptical about success rates, Chirpify banked $1.3 million last April, so they’re doing something right.
Blogs and editorials are another option advertisers are turning to. According to advertising expert Rebecca Lieb, more than 50 percent of small businesses are blogging. Many businesses pay for these blogs to be reformatted into ad spaces in online publications. For example, Boston.com (owned by The New York Times) sells out ad space this way and puts posts in the appropriate editorial section, such as real estate if the “blogger” is a realtor.
All of these companies are personalizing their advertising by subtly attaching themselves to the intellectual or commercial interests of potential customers.
The Global/Local Conundrum
Global/local doesn’t work anymore. Advertisers need to understand the complete picture, yet act on a personal level. Individuals are the ones that make the purchasing decision, and in this interconnected world we really need to focus on each person’s dreams, passions, and fears. Sometimes, this is also cultural.
Know the market you’re jumping into. Turning back to the Nielsen survey, we know that while globally brands are earning more trust from consumers (brand websites are tied with consumer recommendations), there are still many regional differences. Latin American countries might have a large amount of faith in brand sponsorships, but Scandinavians remain skeptical. So, advertisers should obviously have different focuses when launching campaigns in different counties.
In advertising, the one thing that is working globally today is observing what people are interested in, tailoring your product to their desires, and making the switch from inspiration to transaction seamless.
Luis Gallardo is a global brand and marketing leader and an expert in strategic brand management, brand engagement, brand expression, marketing, communications, business development, and reputation management. Former managing director of global brand and marketing at Deloitte, Luis provided leadership to Deloitte’s network of more than 3000 marketing and communications professionals. He is the author of Brands & Rousers.