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What Consumers Want from Marketing Campaigns

Three trends point the way for marketers eager to match campaigns with consumers' shifting preferences

Marketers can be forgiven for feeling like Wile E Coyote at times. Like the poor character who seemed to always have Road Runner in sight but not in hand (with one notable exception), marketing teams often have a handle on how customer preferences are changing but, by the time they’ve updated their campaigns and communications to match, those preferences have changed again.

There are three nuanced shifts that marketers should get ahead of now to reach customers and earn their loyalty, especially among US consumers.

  1. Food sophisticates crave more than comfort-food cues: In a world full of highly literate, food-obsessed consumers, talking up old concepts like comfort food ― and equating comfort eating with qualities like sweetness and richness ― doesn’t resonate with the growing numbers of more adventurous consumers, who find comfort in far more niche cuisines, and who don’t even eat as much for “comfort” anymore.

    The important thing for marketers to understand is that consumers will make emotional connections with flavors (and become more loyal to a brand) when those flavors are accompanied by stories that communicate expertise, nostalgia or a sense of place.

    Marketing teams should not follow in the footsteps of Sriracha Pringles, which feature a Chinese dragon on the packaging and refer to the flavor as “Asian chili sauce.” Such an approach feels naive, stereotypical and “ethnic lite.” Instead, create a way for consumers to really connect with what they’re eating, like Try the World’s global flavors subscription box. Each month, subscribers receive about eight gourmet items from a particular country, along with a “Culture Guide” that includes recipes and ingredient backstories.

  2. Most consumers don’t want brands to shy away from controversial subjects: Consumers are often itching to spread awareness and drive change in the culture, and they expect brands to go out on a limb. Acceptance of same-sex marriage, marijuana and single parenthood, for instance, have become majority viewpoints since the year 2000, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center and Gallup. Emboldened by technology, media, and politics, consumers’ desire to learn about and understand a wide variety of perspectives fuels public conversations about social issues.

    Marketing campaigns that disrupt cultural norms are 32% more likely to exceed business expectations, driving a median increase in sales of 13%, according to CEB data. In order to be disruptive, brands must challenge a cultural norm and advance a societal debate in a way that links to a key brand differentiator. In other words, pick a side and dive right in to expand consumers’ perspectives. They’re ready for it.

    Marketing teams should use humor as a license to access out-of-bounds topics of varying risk. Clorox’s “Bleachable Moments” campaign isn’t afraid to add less common detail ― a child cleaning the bathroom floor with a mop dipped in the toilet, two boys having a distance-from-the-toilet peeing contest ― to make a point about real-world uses for disinfectant. MTV played for laughs with a much more serious social issue — white privilege and racial inequality — with its fake campaign for a service called “White Squad.”

  3. Millennials are going to need brand support in caring for their aging parents: In the US, nearly 40 million people offer unpaid care to an adult friend or relative and, of those caregivers, millennials make up nearly 25%, according to the AARP. As America’s huge baby boomer population starts to retire, the ranks of these young adults will swell to army-like proportions. Those inclined to think of millennials as carefree kidults likely to shirk their duties should think again.

    The parent-to-child financial support model  is morphing into a child-to-parent caretaking structure in which financial support flows from emotionally obliged kids to parents in need. But there’s a tension point in that shift: the lack of meaningful conversation, and thus effective preparation, between young financial supporters and their parents.

    This gives brands the opportunity to meet consumers’ unspoken concerns about caregiving now and in the future — as a family issue, not an individual one. Brands should work to sensitively aid, facilitate and mediate potentially awkward and scary conversations, like AARP did with its Caregiving portal.

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