Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

2020: The year brands woke up to the importance of values

By James Marsden, EMEA GM of customer engagement platform Braze

Over the last six months, the world has been and continues to be challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. In parallel, we’ve also seen a rise of significant social movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and heightened awareness around the support for the LGBTQ+ community, especially during Pride Month.

In response to BLM, the brands that were silent or made questionable communications were called out, and those that made pledges to support diversity and inclusion initiatives to support industry change, such as H&M and MatchesFashion, were praised for such moves.

From a consumer point of view, what has been clear across social media channels, in particular, is the heightened expectation for brands to align with their customers’ values. Recently we conducted a survey of UK shoppers evaluating their shopping behaviour and perceptions. We found that a massive 6 in 10 (61%) UK shoppers, and 9 in 10 (86%) UK Gen Z shoppers specifically, have already walked from a brand because of something they heard or experienced that they didn’t like.

The survey findings, which are detailed in our report ‘The Future of Retail: Opportunities for Brands in the New Normal’, highlight the importance brand communications have on customer perception and ultimately loyalty. It also reveals a movement of consumerism in which shoppers are purchasing from brands that best align with their values.

With this in mind, now has never been more important for brands to adhere to customer values and communicate with them in the most appropriate and engaging way.

Data is the key to understanding

At any point, but especially in the current climate, it’s vital that brands listen to, and understand their increasingly conscious customer base. Yet they must do so with authenticity.

The word ‘data’ may conjure up thoughts of robots, number crunching and spreadsheets, but in fact, for brands, data really is the root of authentic and engaging experiences. Brands must take advantage of the data they get from customer behaviour and interactions and use it to get to know their customers – specifically the way they like to communicate and shop.

Having the right marketing technology and systems in place enables brands to safely collect and analyse data in real-time so they know immediately what matters to their customers. This means they can adapt their messaging accordingly in the right moment and across the right channel.

An example of a Braze customer which used data to communicate with customers in the way they wanted them to, is ecommerce flower delivery service Bloom & Wild. Using Braze, Bloom & Wild was able to help customers ‘opt-out’ of communications around possibly sensitive days such as Mother’s Day. By opting out, customers do not receive any communications around the celebration, as for some individuals it may be a day that is challenging due to their own circumstances.

Customers want to see the ‘human’ in brands

In today’s retail environment, the power lies in the hands of the consumers. What we know from recent months is that the perception of a brand can quickly change or be damaged depending on customers’ response to a crisis or movement. In today’s turbulent environment, consumers increasingly want to use their purchasing power to reward brands that demonstrate empathy and understanding of the world at large. In fact, 97% of retailers said that human connection was important or critical to their business.

Tech is essential in being able to collect valuable data to understand customers, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. With the right teams, brands will be able to turn customer data into powerful insights and engaging ‘human’ messages.

With brand and consumer activism continuing to grow, brands looking to retain their customer base must take action and prove that they are both understanding and progressive in their communications. At a time when brand personalisation and relevancy can feel unsuitable, brands should look into the common drivers that connect customers.

This includes speaking directly to their consumer base through communications that feel relatable, understanding what their consumers want and care about, and responding to consumers when they need it most.

There’s no doubt that the last six months have brought about seismic change. Social movements have altered consumer behaviour and have been a wake-up call to brands. No longer is it good enough to send lacklustre, impersonal and emotionless communications to customers and expect them to connect with a brand. Because of that, it is increasingly challenging for brands to win customers’ loyalty and trust, but with the right technology and teams, it is not impossible. 

Purpose-led brands will ultimately prevail, particularly as Gen Z, who we know from our research feel the most strongly about CSR, grows in influence and power.