There's nothing more important than understanding what consumers want. Whether it’s current or potential customers, insights into their thinking are invaluable to brands.
Results from a recent NetBase Quid/PRWeek survey, revealed in an exclusive eBook entitled Consumer intelligence: Listen and Learn,
indicate that when it comes to understanding what consumers want, nearly all PR pros and their brands have much room for improvement.
Only 17% of comms pros who responded to the survey consider themselves “excellent” at monitoring digital dialogues, while 40% rated themselves as fair or worse. Of those who said they are either “excellent” or “good” at monitoring digital dialogues, only 37% rated themselves as very confident in their ability to glean needle-moving insights from those social conversations.
Monitoring those social conversations has become a daily task for PR pros – one requiring constant attention from people inside the organization and, often, partners outside that can help brands understand what the data means to the business overall.It’s a critical part of the communications function that is central to the entire business operation.
Consistency among the diversity
This conversation was taken to the next level during A masterclass to understanding the consumer, a webcast featuring the top comms leader at one of the world’s most iconic brands.
“We operate in 120 markets around the world. On any given day we’re seeing upwards of around 70 million customers, so we’re touching a lot of people,” notes Michael Gonda, CCO at McDonald’s. “There's extraordinary diversity [in that customer base], but the expectations of the brand are relatively consistent. Staying on strategy ultimately leads you to more successful outcomes. Your supply chain, your restaurant operations, your people practices, are all going to determine whether or not your strategy is being executed in a way that a customer or stakeholder will fully appreciate. [The combination of] trust and reputation is a needle that takes a long time to move, but can be eroded very fast.”
While monitoring has traditionally been reactive, the industry – out of necessity – is moving toward a much more proactive strategy to predict trends. Comms pros must understand how to focus their efforts to tactically determine what to listen for and where to listen for it most intently.
“It’s important to make sure you have an holistic understanding of your consumer and your audience,” advises NetBase Quid CMO Paige Leidig. “There are the conversations we're driving or enabling. There is earned-channel data in your category, industry and among your competitors. There are partnered channels of sponsored activity, too. You want to make sure you're separating those channels because the insights and conversations are going to be distinctly different.”
“Understanding all those different points of contact with the customer and ensuring those experiences are always on brand is super important,” he continues.
(l-r) Gonda and Leidig
Collecting and analyzing data, then sharing it in a consistent way across your organization can have a huge impact on a brand.
“It makes a huge difference not only to how you're engaging with your audience today,” says Leidig, “but how you're thinking about engaging them in the future with a new product or service.”
Increasingly, the data gathered by the comms functions is being sought by many other departments across organizations as they look to make better decisions.
“There’s been a huge push from the top of our organization to collaborate more effectively,” reports Gonda, who adds that research is most effective when monitoring for consumer intelligence has been guided by meaningful questions about what the business must learn to make a decision.
“Once you've persuaded the business leader that something needs to be addressed,” he advises, “you need the durability of these platforms and the experts to prove that out. Any insight you glean must have utility within your organization.”
Consumer sentiment about rival brands in your sector can be a key piece to this intelligence equation, but our survey reveals that comms pros tend to not spend as much time monitoring social chatter for conversations on their competitors as they do their own brand.
Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that only 22% of our respondents have an “excellent” understanding of how their customers feel about their brands specifically versus rival brands. Improving this, notes Gonda, begins with a new perspective.
“You need to start with a learning mindset, not a competitive one,” he says. “You can learn a lot from what another brand is saying and doing. We have a small but mighty team that works with our agency partners to keep a strong pipeline into what's taking place in the world on any given day and keep our teams regularly informed of those developments.”
That information sweep is not limited to direct competitors, either.
“You learn a lot more when you step outside the quadrant in which you operate,” adds Gonda. “You're a little bit less defensive, less competitive perhaps, when you're looking at a brand that’s not a direct competitor.”
Widening the scope of monitoring, counsels Leidig, allows brands to tap into larger trends and enables them to connect with their audience in ways they might not have imagined.
Human emotion is never an easy thing to fathom. The survey results underscore brands’ struggle to pinpoint the emotional drivers that lead consumers to make decisions. Fortunately, our webcast experts had some sage advice.
Increasingly, consumers are looking for what Gonda calls “citizenship” or how a brand interacts with the things they care about.
“The importance of purpose for brands has dramatically increased in visibility,” observes Leidig. “Anywhere from 60% to 77% of consumers say that purpose is a part of their purchasing decision. [In turn,] its importance has risen from the brand manager level all the way up to the C-suite and even to the board.”
Brand purpose is particularly important to Gen-Z and younger consumers, who will make up a majority of the broader customer base for a long time going forward, if they don’t already do.
Sustainability, social injustice and how brands treat their employees are matters to which these consumers pay increasingly rapt attention. Since employees deal with customers on a daily basis, they have a huge impact on the perception of a company and, as such, are crucial brand ambassadors.
“It's not just the expectations of young customers, though,” asserts Gonda. “It’s the expectations of employees, as well as the investors in your organization. They want to know what you're doing as an employer, what you're doing around climate change, and then what you're doing for your value chain. It's really forced us to play offense.”
How the pandemic changed consumers
This was all important before the pandemic, but as people sheltered in place they were thinking more about the brands they support and why. In turn, how brands reacted during the pandemic left an indelible mark.
“When LVMH decided to change from manufacturing perfume to hand sanitizer, they saw growth that continues to accelerate,” notes Leidig. “All people may not buy their products, but still appreciate the investment they're making in the larger community,” which can pay off down the line.
“Over the past 18 months, we tried to focus on areas where the brand and company has a responsibility to authentically meet the needs of the stakeholders that it serves,” adds Gonda. “That is a commitment to our planet, our farmers. And an extension of that is our food quality, our commitment to our community – which we call “community connection” – and the commitment to our people.”
Keeping employees safe and providing jobs for the community were critical for McDonald’s during the pandemic. The company also offered Thank You Meals for healthcare and frontline workers.
Whatever brands are doing to currently monitor consumer sentiment, it’s important to stay on top of new capabilities and trends and to remain flexible.
“There's no set it and forget it,” concludes Gonda. “I can say with decent certainty that our 2021 approach will be extinct by 2023.”
For all the valuable insights shared during this webcast, click here to watch it on-demand.
And click here to download the eBook, Consumer Intelligence: Listen and Learn, that served as the foundation for this conversation.