It is a widely acknowledged marketing truth that what consumers really want is to connect with people, not brands. Consumers have a 'herd mentality' and tend to want what other people have, are getting or wearing. In the past, marketers have labelled these groups of consumers 'tribes', defined by their interests and styles and the likelihood of them purchasing certain products.
Similarly, in years gone by, journalists and influencers would hear about a trend and, once it had been written about, it would filter down to a niche audience over time. Before the trend entered the mainstream, quick-thinking brands would adopt it and market it to a pre-defined target market or tribe. Adidas excelled in this space, quickly co-opting the Grime movement to sell streetwear, creating an association.
Marketers love segmenting consumers, but if the recession has taught us anything, it is that consumers don't act in a rational or coherent way. When people can redirect or co-opt a trend in 140 characters, they can't be pigeonholed into catch-all, immovable tribes.
For marketers skilled at repackaging, co-opting and selling movements to the masses, this demands a sea change in thinking. The fundamental truth is this: while your marketing department may be subscribing to quarterly trend reports and highly defined consumer tribes, your customers aren't.
The fashion industry has been particularly poor at adapting to such consumer contradictions. It has shown an over-reliance on spurious segmentation, based on outdated notions of people unflinchingly sticking to a single style or brand.
In reality, Japanese purchase patterns, where consumers cherry-pick an eclectic mix of styles and brands, are becoming the norm.
At a time when, in the words of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, brands must 'move fast and break things', companies relying on steadfast notions of tribes and quarterly reports will be left behind.
What does the death of consumer tribes mean for marketers?
- Consumer creators - Millennials have grown up expecting their relationship with brands to be a two-way conversation. Consumer feedback is in real-time and, increasingly, customers expect an immediate response. Look at the way in which technology brands such as Twitter have opened up platforms to developers; brands that allow consumers to have a say in how their products are made will thrive.
- Personalisation - In an era when every consumer has a voice, customer feedback has evolved. Consumers expect to be marketed to, and listened to, as individuals. Brands such as Adidas, Prada and Burberry, which are offering highly customised products, are reaping the benefits of appealing to consumers' desire to express their individuality without eschewing the reassurance mainstream brands provide.
- Focus on people, not platforms - Technology may have changed the media landscape, but the fundamental drivers of human behaviour remain the same. Don't overcomplicate your marketing at the expense of people.
- Liquid business depends on live, liquid research and insight - Your research department may well be waiting on a quarterly report, but your customers are not; real-time marketing is key. Brands need to re-engineer their insight teams to work with live feedback and analysis. Marketers need only look at how the music industry was affected by the advent of downloads as a salient example of the risks of being slow to react to changing consumer behaviour.
g.m.o.o.t - Cardmunch
If, like me, you have multiple handbags, which snack on business cards, and a desk that looks like it has been ransacked, then Cardmunch is the app for you. Take a picture with the app and a business card is converted into a digital contact, leaving the days of rooting around for business cards behind.
It's also free, so you can stick to that resolution about spending less on apps and gadgets. Millions of business cards are exchanged every day, many of which are lost or mislaid. Cardmunch is a simple solution.
What's in it for marketers? Cardmunch shows you LinkedIn profile information and common connections. LinkedIn Mobile page views have grown 400% year on year, and keeping up-to-date with the ways professionals interact is important for brands.