OP-ED: Marketers should give respect to win consumer trust

Research continues to confirm that to a significant degree, consumers no longer care much about, nor care to listen to, what marketers have to say about their brands.

Research continues to confirm that to a significant degree, consumers no longer care much about, nor care to listen to, what marketers have to say about their brands.

According to a study presented by Yankelovich Partners at this year's American Association of Advertising Agencies conference, and as reported in The New York Times, "54% of survey respondents said they 'avoid buying products that overwhelm them with advertising and marketing.'" Additionally, the research revealed that "61% [of respondents] said they agreed that the amount of advertising and marketing to which they are exposed 'is out of control.'" While the sheer volume and pervasiveness of marketing messages in our culture has undoubtedly played a role in making consumers tune out - just as technology has made it easier for them to do so - some marketers are starting to wonder whether there could be a more fundamental reason for this souring relationship with the consumer. The question being asked is, in an information-rich society where product information can be accessed as needed, is it possible that traditional marketing strategies no longer provide sufficient value to the consumer in return for the attention and awareness asked of them? Fundamentally, the objective of any marketing campaign is to deliver information and to generate awareness and, hopefully, demand. Unquestionably, this still provides a service, especially when it comes to new product introductions. After all, the consumer cannot know what they do not know. But with consumers deriving product news more often when it is convenient and relevant to them, and from sources that they deem to be more credible than ads and promotions, traditional marketing might over-emphasize information delivery and "sell" to the detriment of building and maintaining a positive relationship with the consumer. The internet has made the consumer a more self-reliant acquirer of information and, as a result, consumers may no longer need to rely upon marketing to deliver information to the extent they once did. In this context, it is easy to see how some marketing, relentlessly delivered and with little perceived value by the consumer, can come to be viewed as intrusive and annoying. The danger ultimately is not just in the erosion of marketing-expenditure productivity, as the Yankelovich study suggests, but that some marketing campaigns might actually generate negative impressions about a brand. Just as individuals rarely form positive bonds with others who interrupt, show little respect for their time, talk only about themselves, and ask much but offer little in return, so too might the consumer develop an impression of a brand character as being intrusive and unsympathetic to their needs from a brand campaign that is seen as offering no real reciprocal value. To establish a desired brand character as being helpful and credible, marketers might want to consider ways in which the brand might bring those characteristics to life by actually doing something for the consumer. In effect, demonstrating a brand's desired equity as something that is tangible and real. As J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich points out, "Saturation marketing models presume a marketplace and a consumer that no longer exists." He goes on to say, "The marketing itself is now part of how consumers view a brand." And with 61% of consumers feeling that marketers and advertisers don't treat them with respect and 64% concerned about motives of marketers and advertisers, according to the Yankelovich study, that does not bode well for the establishment of a positive brand image based upon traditional marketing strategies. In our consumer culture, the consumer is not naturally averse to forming positive relationships with brands, nor to receiving product information. But increasingly, consumers want to receive this information on their terms. Apparently, consumers want marketers to understand that their needs have changed and that marketing approaches should adapt to meet them. Certainly traditional advertising and promotion are not going to go away, but the consumer is sending a clear message that more is wanted from marketers in exchange for their attention. The time might be right for marketers to diversify marketing expenditures and use a portion of their budgets to identify ways in which they can add real value to the consumer's life. This, conducted as a supplement to traditional marketing efforts, can help establish meaningful communications between a brand and target audience. Today's marketing-savvy consumer won't only appreciate the respect being offered, but hopefully gain a truer indication of a brand's desired equity, leading to stronger awareness, retention, and demand.
  • William Daddi is president of Demand, a consumer brand communications agency.
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