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9 Things Brands Get Wrong About Consumers

Firms need to engage with consumers on some unlikely topics and in new ways

For all the promised power of big data, the advances made in demographic analysis, and ever more ways to track shifts in the attitudes and preferences of consumers, firms will always miss things or be trying to catch-up – and exploit – the latest fad.

But there are nine places where brands are misunderstanding their customers, especially in the US, and will benefit from a change of approach.

  1. Baby boomers, and only baby boomers, are on the cusp of a retirement crisis: The US numbers are frightening: 29% of households age 55 and older have neither retirement savings nor a defined benefit plan (according to the US Government Accountability Office, June 2015). Data from the Schwartz Center for Economic Analysis show that 55% of households in which the head of the household is near retirement age (55- to 64-years-old) will have to subsist almost entirely on Social Security income or will not be able to retire at all due to negligible savings, according to Forbes.

    That situation is dire enough for “boomers,” but marketers would be wise to remember the ripple effects on younger generations. In short, millennials (those born between the early 80s and the early 2000s) are about to become an army of caregivers; a new “sandwich generation” that will be forced to choose between spending on their parents or their children.

  2. Consumers have a simple relationship with foods and beverages – different flavors evoke different feelings: Too many consumer packaged goods firms that sell food and drink center their innovation efforts on new flavors, while ignoring other intriguing components.

    Innovation efforts are stalling, as new products tend to merely scratch the surface of consumers’ need for more adventurous cravings and disparate moods. Vanilla has become the cliché of comfort food; new offerings must go way deeper.

  3. Consumers are toppling cultural taboos all over the place, but they don’t want brands to participate: Marketers are understandably afraid to engage with consumers on culturally sensitive issues – transgender rights, religious freedom laws and #BlackLivesMatter feel incredibly dicey to dive into from a corporate perspective.

    Yet honesty, identity and self-expression are ever more important to consumers, and brands risk looking like deer in headlights if they stay on the sidelines of conversations. Not to mention, marcomm campaigns that use “disruptive cultural insights” are far more resonant. Marketers can keep up without stepping out of line — if they understand the right set of considerations.

  4. “Gen We” children are straying from defined gender paths: While Gen We kids (teens and preadolescents) are straying from traditional gender norms, brands aren’t changing their messaging to fit with the bigger picture. Kids are actually creating new paths and norms, not just experimenting with current ones.

    And they are also doing so at varying speeds; boys and girls are at different points in the journey, and so far only the bravest brands are in lockstep.

  5. Millennial and Gen We consumers have the confidence that comes from living in a land of abundance: “Land of scarcity” might be more accurate. Teens and 20-somethings are coming of age in an era of limited resources, both natural (especially water) and intangible, like time, attention, and privacy.

    To cope, they’ve adopted “a scarcity mindset.” Too many brands still interpret this superpower as a weakness, rather than celebrating it.

  6. Healthcare consumers think of themselves as patients first: In reality, healthcare consumers are in the midst of shifting from being patients to shoppers, and brands are eager to understand their purchase-decision process when it comes to wellness.

    CEB research shows that it’s not the traditional markers of gender, age or even diagnosis that most influence consumers’ healthcare decisions, but rather their perception of their current, general state of health.

  7. All over the world middle-class status is about income: In fact, being middle class is based more on new expectations for mobility, connectivity and perpetual (e)quality of life than belonging to a certain income bracket.

    Yet practical manifestations of these expectations vary by market, and understanding such distinctions is crucial to winning in a global marketplace.

  8. Armchair marketers should just be ignored: Debating the quality of ads seems to be a new American pastime. But when consumers are busy giving their latest piece of brilliant amateur analysis, all it really means is that those messages just aren’t getting through.

    The smartest brands are rethinking where, when, and how to do their marketing to avoid misjudgment. Most importantly, they recognize and use the full power of the armchair marketer rather than discounting it.

  9. Consumers won’t need (or even welcome) brands in a world of autonomous tech: It’s likely that the next phase of technological disruption will see consumers depend on an invisible, algorithmic agent hardly distinguishable from a human help mate. These intermediaries (such as an app telling you where you should find lunch in an unknown city, based on what it knows about your preferences) are already subverting the B2C relationship.

    But it will be possible for marketers to bridge the brand-to-consumer chasm and stay relevant, trusted, and indispensable in this new age of intelligent, independent bots.

More On…

  • Iconosphere 2016

    For more on all of these mistakes and far more besides, sign up for CEB Iconoculture’s three-day event. It will introduce – and give attendees ample time to discuss – important new consumer insights, and takes place in Austin, Texas from May 4-6.

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