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Reevaluating the Way Forward


Contributor Kitty Vo
©Somewhere Else
Researching ≠ Understanding

When it comes to brand-building, every well-intentioned marketer first seeks their target audience’s perspective in some way. Most tools of the trade involve some sort of “market study” or “consumer research”. However, large-scale research doesn’t always uncover the important matters or deep issues that lead to truly curve-jumping insights. The traditional consumer research process can be unwieldy, expensive and even out-of-date by the time it reaches the decision-maker.

In recent years, marketers have borrowed some of the practices of experience design, adopting more ‘agile’ or qualitative techniques to uncover deeper issues. These may involve social-media listening, in-depth interviews, focus groups and/or developing customer profiles. However, these can be passive and one-dimensional as it relies on self-report, rather than direct observation.

Direct observation is an improvement (and a more effective use of resources for smaller businesses), but is still inadequate for one important reason: the presence of a ‘research-subject’ relationship. The person we are trying to understand is still seen as ‘the other’. We are not ‘like them’. There remains a big gap between researching and understanding people.

Shameless Sensitivity

Brands that are Aware sense and serve people’s deepest needs. This sensitivity gives them a better grasp of the contexts, challenges and aspirations people have and align their products and programs accordingly. They’re willing to enter people’s lives and have true empathy because they understand that we share a common humanity and lived experience.

Unfortunately, shareholder capitalism is firmly tied to the virtues of the ‘empirical’ method, and traditional marketers would rather cling to a shallow understanding of human needs than be seen as ‘woo woo’ or ‘unscientific’. This over-reliance on quantifying everything leads to businesses that are insensitive to the tensions (and sometimes contradictions) that exist in their customer’s lives. The result? Brands become out of touch with customer needs, produce products that are expensive to create but miss the mark, and businesses that operate with decreasing effectiveness.

So how does a brand become ‘aware’? How does it sense, take ownership of, and serve deeper human needs?

From “Listening” to “Sensing”

Brands that are Aware move from passive “listening” to actively “sensing” the deeper human truths and ever-changing tensions in people’s real lives. Aware brands look for the gaps between what a brand promises and real-world experiences of the people they serve.

For example, an educational app may pride itself on accessibility and catering to people with learning difficulties. However, a ‘shadowing’ research project that forces the app developers to live for a day in the shoes of their users may lead to the discovery that their features are still not accessible enough. This leads to a review and further tweaks to improve their product ahead of launch.

Research → Reflection
Brands that are Aware go well beyond consumer research to reflect on the role they play in all people’s lives they touch. The truth hurts at times, and acting on it can be costly. However, these brands are willing to face the facts of their impact on societal and environmental challenges in their category, past and present.

For example, a sought-after Japanese organic food gifts brand, may position itself as committed to pesticide-free, responsibly sourced non-GMO ingredients. However, when reflecting on the concept of ‘responsibility’ in its wider context, their team members must face the fact that their heavy use of multiple layers of single-use plastic packaging is irresponsible for environmental reasons.

This is a challenge because of the importance of presentation in gift-giving culture in Japan. Their team must resolve the tension here between ‘responsibility’ and ‘presentability’.

Perspective Seeking → Perspective Taking
Brands that are Aware don’t just observe the people they serve and the communities in which they operate. They see the world through these peoples’ eyes and act based on  their truest needs, anxieties and aspirations.

For example, the leadership team at an insurance company launches a highly-publicised campaign promising better service (due to a big investment in an IT upgrade). They notice a significant increase in customer complaints relating to turnaround times for claims processing. Instead of being embarrassed, pointing the finger or assigning blame to call-centre staff, the C-Suite took upon themselves to visit the call centres and spend time on the phones facing the angry customers personally.

They realise that a recent ‘upgrade’ to the ticketing software was accompanied by inadequate training to navigate through the new processes which were significantly different from existing mental models their staff had developed. The fault lay not with their staff, but the additional burden the supposedly newer more efficient system placed on them (exacerbated by the increased volume through the advertising campaign).

WIthout taking the perspective of people on the ground, it would have been much harder for the leadership team to take responsibility and ownership of the problem.

Why Being an ‘Aware’ Brand is Good for Business
Customers will notice Aware brands because they feel, hear and see differently from other brands. They engage deeply, compassionately and enter customers’ lives in a meaningful way. Aware brands are willing to let go of preconceptions and listen with fresh humility with every encounter so that products may be reborn, better every time.

As a marketer that’s ‘Aware’, you’ll see new opportunities to meet people’s needs and pains. You solve the problems that matter to them. Awareness allows Regenerative Brands to create new products, services and experiences that deliver meaningful connection, brand loyalty and indispensable value in people’s lives.

Reflection questions
  1. Awareness comes from asking three key questions. Reflecting on your product category, try to answer the following:
  • • What do people want?
  • • What does the world need?
  • • What does my brand uniquely offer?
2. What role do you or your category play in a wider societal challenge?
3.  What’s contributing to the problem (note: it needs to be something you can do something about)?
4. How would it look like if you closed the gap/ took ownership of the problem?

Becoming a Regenerative Brand is Developing an Additive Mindset Find out more in the next chapter, ADDITIVE

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