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Consumers Have Spoken: How Will You Show You Have Listened?

October 1, 2020
By Depali O'Connell

We are all activists now.

The blinkers are off and ordinary people are seeing the world laid bare. It’s messy, it’s difficult – and at times it’s downright depressing – but above all, there’s hope.

And that is what corporates now hold in their hands.

The hope of millions of people is being placed at the feet of stock exchanges around the globe. And alongside it is the plea: Please do something good with it. Please don’t let us down. Because we can’t do this without you.

The truth is that companies and consumers have never needed each other more; the relationship is now one of greater equilibrium. When power balances alter, it takes time for both parties to adjust. In the case of companies, C-suite execs are tackling questions on how to deal with the ceding of power, whereas for consumers, it’s all about how to leverage their new clout.

In the past, companies have looked to each other to guide what actions they take. What’s the industry standard? What’s my nearest competitor doing? What does it take to go one up on my peer group? Leadership looked like leading the pack.

But your planners – those in your agency or business who help you understand the motivations of the people who move your world and how to move with them – will now be hard at work figuring out what your consumers truly want and need to see from you. In short, how you can honour their hope.

In this case, hope is also a synonym for ‘help.’ Consumers are asking for help from companies to behave better. There is a real opportunity for honesty here; companies cannot change their behaviors without consumer change.

Which, for directors of comms and marketing, means taking a more singular focus on who you need to impress and impress discussion upon. Convince your consumers, and maybe the rest will follow.

The key word for me in this latest research is ‘committed;’ the lack of commitment that consumers feel from companies. It’s a word that the corporate world throws about a lot, but the intent has disappeared. No one knows what it means to be committed anymore; this is particularly true for companies.

This is a really exciting moment for planning; the development of insight and strategy that becomes the bedrock of what your company does next. Planners live to get inside the hearts and minds of audiences. We’re nosy, and we should not be walking away until we have helped you to really unpack what commitment looks like in 2020 for your audience.

It needs to go deeper and further than just knowing what they care about. It has to tell you how and where you need to show up and who should show up with. It needs to define the next generation of work you do. It starts with simple questions and it leads to deeper interrogation and deepened disclosure.

  • What are the specific issues that your consumer base cares about?
  • What change do they hope for?
  • How do they perceive you in relation to that hope?
  • What would change their mind?
  • What do you really need to do/say/change to show them that you’re committed?
  • Where do you need to show up to show them you are committed?

Bringing the perspectives of the people into your business is critical. Are you crowd-sourcing or are you co-creating? Are you setting foundations or putting the cherry on the top of something you already baked? Are you up for healthy challenge or do you just want validation?

We talk a lot in this industry about behaving with authenticity. Ahead of launching any campaign, businesses question whether this is something that they can credibly claim to care about. But when it comes to climate change, D&I and health in the workplace, I’d suggest that, unless your business is run by aliens, we can all credibly claim to care about the environment along with the wellbeing and good treatment of fellow humans. So, use your consumer insight to understand not whether you should get involved, but what your involvement looks like and ultimately feels like to the people who receive it.

The world needs some serious healing. And that requires genuine hard graft, but you’ve got a better chance of getting more of it right if you ask the right questions of the right people first.

For some, that means picking up where you left off with renewed vigour. For others, it means starting again with a different energy. But make no mistake, every single one of us has work to do to understand what this research means for our businesses and our clients.

It all comes down to what every CMO needs to ask themselves today: what will your business do with the hope that your customers have placed at your feet and how will you dig deep to do it in ways that count?

Read more from FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s Thinking Allowed – Issue 4 report here.