In the old days, companies and brands basically dictated what customers wanted. They thought up what customers might want, marketed it, and provided it. The brand’s perception of its own value was the basis on which all decisions were made. But at no point in this process was consumer behavior accounted for.
This has been the reality until recent years. Changes in consumer behavior and trends have forced brands to rethink their strategy. Empowered customers with endless options have reclaimed much of the power in the relationship. This means that companies still adhering to the old way of doing things will find themselves struggling to keep up.
The new kind of customer
This change in paradigm is a direct result of the vast majority of customers having access to all the information they could ever want. One swipe and click, and they have product pages, reviews, competing advertisements, and more at their fingertips.
This means customers are more discerning. Customers today — Millennials especially — want more than a product, they want a promise. Competition is intensifying in every industry, and there is increased pressure for brands to step up their game.
When companies can no longer dictate the terms they want, the study of consumer behavior becomes crucial. Knowing what the customer feels and thinks is now the key to any brand’s growth and development. It’s a battle of psychology. Brands need to be in touch with customers’ reasoning and have to know how customers can be influenced.
Lars Perner is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He says consumer behavior involves “the study of how people — either individually or in groups — acquire, use, experience, discard, and make decisions about goods, services, or even lifestyle practices such as socially responsible and healthy eating”.
Customer decisions are the peak measurement of customer behavior. They are what make the difference between a business going under and becoming the next world-changing success.
Influencing Customer Decisions
Traditional marketing still has a place in the scheme of things. But it’s no longer enough on its own. A deeper approach is needed to reach customers where they make their instinctive and automatic decisions.
Build Positive Brand Perceptions
What do customers think of when they look at your brand? What do they immediately associate with it? Understand that many customers make decisions on the fly. They usually don’t have time to spend comparing offerings at length. Much of the battle is in the subconscious, so the more positive the image of your brand, the better.
Be an Expert at What You Do
Creating that positive perception starts with establishing trust with your customers. When a brand is seen as reliable in its delivery of experience and quality, customers are drawn to it. Look to brands like Zappos, with their renowned customer service, or Netflix which has positioned itself as the leader for original programming (which earned them Emmy Awards). Failing to remind customers regularly of your expertise and experience in your field can be costly.
Look at Customer Similarities
Individual customers are, in the end, different people. It’s nearly impossible to cater to each and every individual’s preference. Instead, try to look at what makes them similar. Pick up on common habits and behavioral patterns. Look at common responses to certain cues and triggers. Look at creating a universal theme that a lot of people will be able to relate to. Not to mention that this kind of approach is much more cost-effective.
Consumer Behavior Data, Applied
So how is consumer behavior applied? Let’s look at some of the ways.
Developing Segmented Marketing Strategies
A perfect example of segmentation is the ad targeting during the Super Bowl. Since a lot of the audience are males, the advertising campaigns mostly feature male-targeted advertisements. March Madness experiences the same swing. Both male-targeted ads and ads that reference the college basketball season dominate the broadcast.
Sometimes it’s more important to sell an idea than to sell a product. Lead your messaging with a cause or a movement a customer can get behind to justify their support for the brand. For example, green/environmentally friendly products. The idea being sold is one of a better, cleaner planet, so the brand frames its products as the kind that have no negative effects on the environment.
Creating Brand Ambassadors
When customers go beyond just consuming the product and start promoting it, you’re creating powerful advocates for your brand. This is the best possible result of all the positive associations and perceptions you’ve created. Customers essentially become free brand ambassadors because they believe in the product/service and the company it’s from. That genuine brand enthusiasm in turn helps legitimize your brand. For example, Tesla dedicates a part of their website to “Customer Stories” from devoted brand ambassadors.
Don’t be left behind
Customer experience has seen its fair share of oversaturation in recent years. But the good news is that studying customer behavior will drive new growth, regardless. Companies have everything to lose by failing to listen to what customers really want. Consumer insight is the new driver for brands to continue to move forward into the future.
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