Nobody settles for average

Remember the slogan, “Things Go Better with Coke?” Today, those things are coffee and data.

When Coca-Cola announced its decision to buy British coffee shop chain Costa, many were quick to attribute the move to the company’s ongoing efforts to diversify its product offering. This makes sense, but, more important, with the acquisition of physical stores, the move also gives Coke access to something it increasingly needs: first-party data.

Like most packaged goods brands, the company has largely been separated from its customers and relied primarily on traditional partners (think movie theaters and 7-Eleven) to sell its products. While it has heavily invested in building its brand and understanding customers, it could never speak to people as individuals. It was great to buy a Coke personalized with my name, but it was done anonymously. Coke may be “The Real Thing,” and that may resonate with a lot of people, but now Coke, and everyone else, needs to better understand its customers.

Why? Because, today, nobody settles for average.

They want what they want, when and where they want it. They’re buying your product; they expect it to be amazing. In a recent research study by Epsilon, 80% of consumers said that they would only consider buying a product if they feel it delivers a personalized experience.

The brands that currently deliver these experiences have either amassed an astonishing amount of data from their customers or they are highly focused on niche experiences and build on data from the ground up (think Stitch Fix or Warby Parker). More traditional brands are scrambling to catch up, which is driving everything from martech investments to direct-to-consumer (DTC) plays—like Coke’s recent purchase.

That said, the approach is only half of what’s needed, as the majority of brands investing heavily in data and technology are not getting the response they want. In a recent study, 59% of marketing leaders revealed that they’re not happy with their marketing investments.

This is because treating people as individuals is not merely about data and a sophisticated martech stack; it requires a new mindset and requires you to do these three things: know your audience, speak their language, and understand their world.

Know your audience

Gaming app Discord has become integral to online social experiences for gamers, content creators (via Patreon), and their communities around the world. Rather than monetizing its voice chat and social functions, Discord decided to sell these communities’ games directly to its users via an integrated store. Discord's unique ability to know its audience results from its heavy use of user-submitted content (all of the text on the app's loading screens comes from user submissions).

In other words, Discord is using its deep interaction with its users to inform its monetization strategy. All brands — from shampoo to cars — need to get to know their audience in this intimate way if they want to be relevant and remove the real pain points.

Speak their language

There’s no value in knowing your customers if you can’t connect with them on their terms. Like many brands, Athleta is focused on attracting young customers. Recently, the brand surfaced a critical insight that wasn’t about sales or style preference, but a hard truth about girls and sports: Athleta discovered that by the age of 14, many girls lose confidence and stop playing sports.

To connect on a deeper level, the brand realized it had to speak directly to girls in their own language, rather than merely selling them a product. This resulted in the inspiring “Stay in the Game” campaign that enlisted young people to urge their peers to keep playing. By doing this, Athleta was able to speak in the language of the exact audience it was trying to reach.

Understand their world

Feminine and sexual products company Lola started with a simple fact: The manufacturers of such products rarely reveal how their products are made. But many women today take great care with what they eat and put on their bodies, with healthy and organic options top of mind. And so, Lola goes to great length to source wholesome materials and shares that information freely with its customers.

By truly understanding the world of their target audience, Lola was able to deliver a differentiated product that did not previously exist for this customer base. This did not require a sophisticated predictive analytics model. Instead, it required a deep understanding of the audience and how they live their lives.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Doing these three things right requires direct access to consumers that enables a brand to amass data — and then the ability to make sense of it all and turn that into action. This is not easy — and you may find yourself buying a coffee chain — but if you know your consumers, speak their language, and understand their world, it gets a lot easier.

Jamie Gutfreund is Global CMO of Wunderman

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