Adopting a consumer-first communications strategy

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Kazoo has come up with seven steps to adopting a consumer-first comms strategy, inspired by their event last week.

To kick off Kazoo Communication’s 2019 event series, four guest speakers were welcomed from Amazon, Kellogg’s, News UK and Philips for a morning of talks and discussion on the topic of consumer-first communications.

Whilst most brands would probably claim to put consumers at the heart of their strategy, the reality is that many don’t. And with expectations for brands to deliver better experiences, an increasing battle for consumer attention, and a decline in effectiveness of traditional media channels, those that aren’t successfully doing this risk being left behind.

Here we’ve pulled together our seven key steps for beginning the process of building a consumer-first comms strategy, ensuring higher levels of engagement and connections with your customer.

7 Steps for Adopting a Consumer-First Comms Strategy:

1. Define your core values and build on them

Purpose might be last year’s marketing buzzword, but there’s valid reason behind this. Before approaching any new communications, proposition or campaign, the first key step is to ensure you’re building on your brand’s purpose.

Ed Bearryman, head of content marketing at News UK, said that their core values – ‘to be useful and entertaining – have remained the same throughout any big organisational changes. Consider what these are and start to begin the process of planning your communications strategy with this as the basis – not as an afterthought.

It’s also important to recognise that your core values or purpose might not be for everyone. Our panel emphasised that brands who win are those who create experiences for their customers. Sometimes you need to be controversial and that’s ok - you can’t always please everyone - but having a clearly defined purpose that resonates with your key audience is better than lacking commitment.

2. What will be useful to people and how do you help them discover it?

The key to being truly customer-centric is to give people what they want, before they know they want it.

For example, Gemma Cook, UK PR lead for Amazon Alexa, described how Public Health England recently developed a skill within the voice assistant which provides tips and advice for breastfeeding mothers. Being able to ask Alexa questions and get a sense of reassurance in the middle of a difficult night while their hands are full, is something that would be extremely valuable to new mothers and also helps to build a sense of bonding between themselves, the voice assistant, and in turn, the brand itself.

On the other hand, an example where brands got this wrong came from our first speaker, Steven Griffiths, insights director at Philips. He spoke about the introduction of the Philips ‘self-stirring home cooker’; an appliance they thought would take away some of the annoyances of having to stand next to a stove for half an hour after a long day’s work. What they didn’t realise though is that people who love to cook and make time for it actually enjoy this process. There’s something relaxing and loving about patiently cooking a meal for your family – and the self-stirring cooker took this feeling away.

Start to build genuine insights into your customers, where they are at in their lives, and what could be useful to them, and make it easy for them to discover it.

3. Identify the key things you want people to do from your communications campaign

Our panel emphasised the importance of defining, right at the start of your campaign, exactly what you want the resulting behavioural response to be.

Whether it’s to buy something, feel a specific emotion towards your brand, or complete an action – this needs to be clear to all stakeholders from the beginning. You can then leverage audience insights and behavioural science to help with driving this response. He clarified the four key questions as:

  • Who do you want to do what?
  • What do we know about that behaviour?
  • What can we do to making this happen?
  • How do know if it works?

Arguably, all marketing comes down to wanting to change or invoke some kind of emotional or behavioural response, so these questions should be asked before any kind of planning or strategy is put in place.

On a connected note, it’s essential that these KPIs are clearly defined at the start of a campaign, but also that effectiveness is being continuously measured throughout. It’s all too common that internal barriers and a sense of ‘wanting to see a campaign through’ prevent marketers being reactive and changing course when it’s not working. But being truly consumer-first is recognising when something isn’t resonating or driving the desired behavioural response, and re-setting if needed.

4. Talk to consumers in the way they want to be talked to

We all believe our products are great (at least, we should do). But talking about all the things that make them great won’t necessarily engage consumers. People don’t buy a MacBook because it’s any better or faster than its counterparts; they buy into the Apple brand and the association they have with it.

Griffiths argued that we need to stop pushing features messaging for products, as customers are just not as focused on these as they are the overall brand messaging and experience.

5. Embrace influencers as a way to regain more power over your messaging

In an era of fake news and media overload, it’s difficult to win consumers’ attention for your own brand’s communications. People want to read about the weird and wonderful, even if the story itself isn’t based in fact.

This is something Cook described. The PR-driven campaigns around how Alexa has genuinely helped to improve people’s lives were being drowned out by tabloid clickbait stories, sometimes not even based on truth, like a story that claimed Alexa had helped someone to make contact with a relative that had passed away. These clickbait style headlines were taking away their own ability to say what they wanted to say.

She recommended that brands start to see influencers as a way to counteract this. Whilst working with influencers does require a certain degree of trust and handing over of the reins, brands have much more power to build and deliver the message they wanted.

Cook also showed how Amazon has positioned itself within powerful moments such as the World Cup to reach new customers, providing them with something useful and engaging.

6. Give your consumer an experience

It’s nothing new that we’re living in the experience economy, with millennials and Gen Z’s preferring to spend money on experiences vs things. The difficulty though is how brands whose core offering is product or service-driven can deliver these for their customer.

This was a challenge for News UK, with print circulation in decline and digital revenue squeezed by the Google-Facebook duopoly. Bearryman explained how they’re trying to overcome this challenge through finding new ways to monetise their audiences, but also by ultimately sticking to their founding principle of, “Give the audience what they want’.

Through a policy of always-on feedback and gathering of audience insights, they’ve developed a portfolio of sub-brands such as the Sun Savers loyalty programme, which create a value proposition for their customers but ultimately drive them to print.

Explore ways that your brand communications could expand to include a valuable experience for your customers. Just ensure that these are still relevant and linked to your brand purpose.

7. If you can’t justify a real need, don’t do it

Amazon are arguably the most consumer-centric company in the world. Everything they do is built around making things easier for their customers and improving people’s lives, and this is something they stick to across all aspects of the organisation.

Cook stated that this is the value they live by, and whether it’s development of a product or a new promotional campaign, you should be able to easily articulate what consumers will gain from it in just a few sentences. If you can’t, it’s probably not worth it.

Hopefully this gives you a bit of inspiration or a few useful tips for building a more consumer-first communications strategy in 2019.

If you’re interested in hearing more, either about our future events or how we at Kazoo Communications work with brands to deliver effective, consumer-centric PR and communications campaigns, just drop an email to helen@kazoo.co.uk who would be happy to set something up.

Delilah Pollard is the lifestyle director at Kazoo Communications

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.