Why Your Brand Evolution Needs Consumer Market Research

July 19, 2022

A new 360 Market Reach (now Leger) study features valuable insights to help inspire the brand evolution your company needs in order to keep up with changing customer attitudes.

A lot has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. So much, in fact, that it can be hard to determine when, how, and why we saw such dramatic shifts in customers’ habits.

Rather than guessing, or depending on anecdotes and observations, it’s important to assess these changes with some actual data. Then, you can turn all that guesswork into insights actionable for your brand evolution in 2022.

Farissa Knox, founder of RLM Marketing, says that “research is now sexy again… businesses have needed to shift their product offerings and services, and they recognize that there is no room for guessing at it. The marketplace is forcing the data to be the decision-maker on next steps.”

And let’s face it, this is the “new normal.” It’s time to pivot toward new consumer marketing brand strategies — the numbers will never look like the pre-pandemic world.

Consumer Brand Marketing and Research in 2022

Woman looking at the ingredients on a bottle

Through our latest research, 360 Market Reach has used a combination of quantitative surveys and qualitative video ethnographies to understand how customers’ brand values have changed since the coronavirus upended their lives. 

We looked at three specific industries that were highly impacted: travel & tourism, luxury goods, and health & wellness. 

Our qualitative and quantitative results confirm our hypothesis: There has been an enormous shift in what customers want. That makes brand evolution a bigger player than ever.

So what do brands need to evolve into? Well, that depends on the industry.

For example, our research shows that 45% of travelers value high cleaning standards more than they did before the pandemic. They’re also looking for greater flexibility in fees and scheduling. 

Consumer interest in mental health is larger than ever, as well, with a 34% increase in priority since the pandemic began.

Furthermore, 31% reported that the health behaviors learned during the pandemic will become part of their daily routine.

These are just two considerations you can factor into your brand’s evolution.

What to Factor into Your Brand Evolution

Our research reveals numerous ways to reexamine your brand’s connections with customers and create closer relationships.

The things consumers value more in the pandemic era all relate to feeling that their relationships with companies are more substantial than simply transactional.

The brands that take their customers’ expectations into account when creating new consumer marketing brand strategies in the age of COVID are the ones that are going to find success moving forward. 

There are several ways to create these connections and signal a desire to create stronger relationships with consumers.

Perceived Value without Cutting Costs

Across the three verticals we explored, we discovered that three in ten consumers find “excellent value for the money” more important now than before the onset of the pandemic. 

In the past, such easy and obvious displays of “value” as sales and discounts may have temporarily mollified consumers who were simply looking for a good deal. Now, customers often define “value” as something much more personal.

For example, online pet food and product retailer Chewy regularly makes industry headlines for its above-and-beyond approach to customer service.

A June 2022 Entrepreneur article covered the graceful and generous ways the company handled clients’ questions about unopened food they bought for pets that unexpectedly passed away (full refunds, flowers sent, etc.).

“We have a 3,000-person customer care team, and they need to be both empathetic and empowered to act on the customer’s behalf,” Chewy CEO Sumit Singh told Retail Touchpoints.

That kind of meaningful brand evolution can’t be measured financially, and strengthens relationships between company and customer. 

Build Trust with Brand Transparency

There’s a lot of talk around supply chains and bandwidth, which has consumers worried and on edge. They don’t have all of the information they want, so they’re looking to trusted brands to let them know what’s going on with the products they depend upon.

So how do you build that trust? Transparency.

Transparency Global says that brand transparency is measurable. They use six factors to define transparency:

  1. Company standards
  2. Clear terms and conditions
  3. Accountability
  4. Clear costs
  5. Honesty
  6. Transparency

In April 2022, they published their World’s Top 100 Most Transparent Companies for Q2, with some surprising additions to the previous list.

Sales rep at an apparel store helping a customer

Social Media

According to Sprout Social, “81% of people believe businesses have a responsibility to be transparent when posting on social media — that’s higher than the standards they set for politicians, friends/family or themselves. But only 15% of consumers believe brands are currently ‘very transparent’ on social.”

Facebook, one of the largest companies in the world, has had its share of transparency disasters. When a 2018 data breach opened up 50 million users’ data to Cambridge Analytica, they saw a sharp decline in user trust of the brand. Not only that, but they neglected their consumer base after the fact.

According to Forbes, Facebook “failed to provide clear advice to users following the breach and confusion reigned about who, exactly, had been affected and the nature of data compromised.”

And we aren’t just talking about feelings. That emotional engagement leads to — you guessed it — leads. A 2018 poll found that 66% of consumers think transparency is one of a brand’s most attractive qualities.

Not only that, a 2022 survey showed that 46% of them said that they would pay more for products from a brand they trust

Data Protection

Consumers are turned off by “creepy” advertising strategies. When they see content that obviously pulled location data, tracked cookies, or overheard conversations, they feel manipulated — their privacy has been violated.

They ask themselves, “What else might this company be doing with my information?” If you’re building the right relationship with your customer, that question disappears.

According to Forbes, “consumers are willing to trade data for personalized experiences, but such trades come with high expectations for both the experience and the ways the brand might use that data subsequently.”

When a customer feels that their data is being taken care of responsibly, their brand loyalty increases significantly.

Loyalty metrics are spiking for companies that treat their customers like individuals — not just walking research subjects.

What does this look like in practice? Kelly McGee, director of digital marketing for Jersey Mike’s, says “with our new app, we created an additional screen that explains why we want [a user’s] location data, not just like the standard iOS screen.

We took that extra step to ensure that they knew exactly why, not that we just wanted to track their data for any reason… We want our customers to be aware of how we’re using their data. We’re very transparent about that.”

Privacy regulations are constantly shifting. So big industry players like Google and Apple are working together to change the way data is obtained, viewed, and leveraged in order to maintain compliance.

In response, many marketing teams are using privacy-compliant Consumer Data Platforms to streamline data management for all of their sources. 

Not only does this keep companies in compliance, it makes data collection more customizable, allowing brands to drive consumer engagement more successfully. 

According to Jay Kulkarni, the Founder and CEO of Theorem, “the imminent demise of the cookie is a significant driving force toward building innovative data solutions.

As privacy regulations evolve, all marketing technology teams must be ready to provide clients and consumers the option to analyze data without putting their privacy at risk.”

Connect with Customers Through Empathic Consumer Brand Marketing

Start your brand evolution to get happier customers

A company is no longer competing with other companies. You’re competing with the last best experience your customer had.

Harvard Business Review reports that “when the coronavirus hit, digital transformation accelerated overnight. This, in turn, sent consumer expectations skyrocketing in terms of what companies could do for them with a more digital experience. The customer expects so much more than just a seamless digital transaction… now that companies have their personal data, they want anticipatory, personalized experiences across the entire customer journey.”

Customers want an authentic, empathetic brand. We’re past lumping customers into giant segments based on broad, meaningless demographics. Nobody wants to feel like part of a population study. 

They didn’t sign up for that. What they did sign up for is an authentic, sustainable relationship. They want their shopping habits interpreted on an individual level. 

It’s not just about the individual customer, though.

With increased social media conversations around hot-button political issues, customers are looking for brands that are socially and environmentally responsible. They want brand evolution to take their entire community into account.

Our latest research found that almost one out of five travelers’ desire for a diverse and inclusive company increased since the pandemic. Their preference for environmentally conscious brands showed an even larger jump.

Making a Connection

Consumers are smart. They don’t want to be “sold” on something. Their eyes and ears are open for any sign of persuasive advertising. They’d rather be supported, not persuaded, by a brand that’s looking to meet their individual needs.

But it has to be done digitally.

According to FinancesOnline, 70-80% of consumers are unwilling to speak with a customer service representative on the phone. They want their interactions to be relevant and informative, but also online. If you want to reach a consumer, you have to speak their language. That means connecting with them on their terms.

Many shoppers don’t want to be face-to-face, either. The latest research from 360 Market Reach shows that 44% of luxury customers are more likely to shop online than before the pandemic.

They’re more likely to try out new brands, especially recognizable ones that sell a handful of specific luxury items. 

We also found that consumers are concerned about the challenges that small businesses face during the pandemic, and want to support those businesses. Health & wellness consumers want to shop at small and independent retailers 21% more than they did prior to the pandemic. 

Recommendations by social media influencers and celebrities seem to hold less weight than they did before the pandemic, making a brand-customer connection extremely important.

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