BRANDS CAN NO LONGER LURE CONSUMERS BY REMIXING MARKETING PLATITUDES. THEY ARE NOW EXPECTED TO INFORM AND EDUCATE THE PUBLIC AND MAKE A POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD AROUND THEM.”
— EMMANUEL PROBST, CONSUMER PSYCHOLOGIST AND CONSUMER MARKET RESEARCH PROFESSOR, UCLA
HOW BRANDS CAN REINVIGORATE TRUST
The devastating news came at a time when Peloton was riding an incredible wave of market demand and consumer love. Powered by the amazing success of its exercise bike, the brand released the Peloton Tread and Peloton Tread+ earlier this year. The $4,300 treadmills were ranked No. 1 by Consumer Reports when compared to 41 other brands. But in March, after a child suffered a brain injury while using the Tread+, the Peloton brand fell under public scrutiny, even seeing its shares drop 6.2% in premarket trading directly after the incident.
“WHILE PEOPLE INCREASINGLY BELIEVE THAT ORGANIZATIONS NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR DECISIONS, THEY ARE ALSO INCREASINGLY WARY THAT THEY WILL FOLLOW THROUGH ON THEIR SOCIAL COMMITMENTS.” — ANDERS MCGILLIS, STRATEGY PRINCIPAL, JACKMAN
To help reinforce its commitment to consumer safety, Peloton notified the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) the day after the incident. It also sent an urgent reminder to its Tread+ members, reminding them about the importance of following critical warnings and safety instructions. To note, the child is expected to make a full recovery. Despite the incident and media wave that followed, Peloton remains a brand driven by fierce customer loyalty. Today, with more than 1.67 million connected fitness subscribers and counting, it boasts an annual retention rate of more than 92%. Peloton instructors on Instagram alone have a combined follower count of 6.62-plus million. And during the pandemic, in a time when gyms were shut down, the brand gained further market traction.
This is the kind of definition of customer loyalty and confidence that Anders McGillis says all brands should strive for. McGillis, Strategy Principal at leading customer engagement reinvention firm Jackman, says that while Peloton and its community primarily exist digitally with little to no in-person interactions, it has built a circle of fiercely loyal users who feel deeply connected to the brand and its instructors. Peloton enables consumers to engage with each other directly on their machines—a place where users can send high-fives, ride/run with friends or start classes at the same time as other strangers so they experience it together. “The brand has humanized itself through its instructors, how it engages with consumers on its social channels, and how it enables consumers to connect with, high five, or exercise with each other,” McGillis says. “It’s retention rate numbers indicate a successful community can lead to stickiness and loyalty.”
These days, brand loyalty seems to be a street many consumers are trying to sidestep. According to Deloitte’s “2021 Global Marketing Trends Study,” C-suite executives have seen more than a 35% drop in customer confidence in the pandemic and the early beginnings of the post-pandemic timeframe. While the reasonings vary from market to market, the overriding consensus may be that there is a broader trend of declining consumer trust in brands and advertising, resulting in a true loss of authentic brand connection. As the Deloitte study shows, part of the problem may rest in the fact that purpose-driven brands inherently understand why they exist and who they are best built to serve regardless of what they sell today—and the other brands don’t. “While people increasingly believe that organizations need to be held accountable for their decisions, they are also increasingly wary that they will follow through on their social commitments,” McGillis says. “Unfortunately, brands are giving consumers a reason to be skeptical.”
In his book, “Brand Hacks: How to Build Brands by Fulfilling the Consumer Quest for Meaning,” Emmanuel Probst reveals why most advertising campaigns fail by examining the personal, social, and cultural meanings that successful brands bring to consumers’ everyday lives.
Probst, a Consumer Psychologist and Consumer Market Research Professor at UCLA, believes that C-suite executives must put their “same-old” tactics to rest. “Marketers tend to focus on short-term tactics that will appeal to their audience in the moment, rather than dedicating resources and efforts to long-term brand building. Brands can no longer lure consumers by remixing marketing platitudes. They are now expected to inform and educate the public and make a positive contribution to the world around them.”
THE WAY FORWARD
In the broad stroke of the brush painting the landscape of which brands play on today, the changes are many—almost too many to count. Too many marketers are bubbled, whereby they live in big cities, read more, listen to more podcasts, and are more educated than the consumers they target.
To make things even more interesting, too many brands shout their messages at their audiences, forcing their products down their consumers’ throats. But even so, Probst says the solutions to build back consumer confidence and trust in the looming post-pandemic world are doable. “It is time to take a step back and listen to consumers in order to understand what feels meaningful and purposeful to them. From there, marketers can build brands and products that will help consumers fulfill their quest for meaning.”
Probst says the pandemic has accelerated consumers’ digital transformation, whereby even late adopters and older age groups increasingly rely on technology to communicate with brands and purchase products. “Our relationship with brands now spans across all channels. The customer experience must be seamless and consistent, whether he chooses to engage on social media, over the phone or in-store.”
McGillis believes that marketers can rely on mediums such as print to build confidence. By offering a more personal connection, print enables brands to better engage with their audiences, allowing them to offer key pieces about your brand. “Print can be used for awareness messaging or to drive credibility through influencer content or brand recommendations, or to simply feature your products in articles (in ways that feel natural and authentic). The key is that the message must be relevant to the context of the print piece. You should be clear on the goal and intent of the piece, as this will help dictate its placement and creative direction. For example, anything you do with newspapers should be geared toward providing information.”
It also is important for the printed pieces to feel like content and not just another advertisement. McGillis says that adding value beyond just pushing your product messaging is key to confidence building. “Regardless of the medium in which you try to reach consumers, authenticity is key. Humans are inherently social creatures. In our research, 43% of respondents cited various elements of deep connection as the core benefit they seek when engaging with other people, and honesty and trust emerged as consumers’ top priorities—outranked only by health and safety.”
To better prove the point, you only have to refer back to the aforementioned Peloton example. In the end, people trust other people more than they trust your brand, which is why establishing a human connection between your brand and consumers is so important. “Don’t underestimate the power of your employees to help achieve these connections,” McGillis says. “They are your brand and giving them the tools they need to express that is key. If a brand is able to humanize itself, whether through brand advocates, ambassadors, or employees, in a way that’s authentic to its DNA, then it’s going to be that much easier to form authentic connections with consumers.”
It is the kind of confidence that builds sustainability.