This month we explore brand building and how we serve our customers. Future State speakers Mark Adams, Senior Vice President and Head of Innovation at VICE Media Group, and Constantine Gavrykov, Global Director of Digital Experience Design at adidas, share their insights.
Like a beloved character in movie, a brand must never change, not fundamentally, anyway. It is what it is, and all you can hope to do is keep it fresh in modern times. If your brand has lost its way, then reach back into its past, go back to its roots, find its intrinsic value and work with that.
For Mark, the internet is culture. "It’s real people connecting about the real things that they love."
An advertising system has been built to reach these people, but in practice, it interferes with the internet. But that is where a lot of brands are today, says Mark - on the internet and getting in the way.
"A great way of thinking about this is that the content you go to watch on YouTube is what’s 'in' the internet. The advert you’re forced to sit through before you get to that content is what’s 'on' the internet," Mark explains.
Mark Adams has a mnemonic or device to help you remember, for every idea he shares. And when it comes to reasons why demographics don’t work in marketing anymore, he has some doozies.
Demographics are the data that marketers use to group people into categories such as their age, gender, income, and location. They then target these groups with specific advertising products and messages.
Mark describes demographics as dangerously empty, marketing’s original sin, and “the thing that guarantees more than any other thing that every downstream strategic decision is going to be a disaster.” And he was just getting started.
“King Charles is 74 years old, he lives in Windsor, he’s a high net individual with two children. The Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne, he lives in Windsor, he’s 74 years old, he has two children, he’s a high net individual. It’s like, good luck designing a new product, a piece of communication, anything that meets those two people in the same space psychologically.”
“Somebody told me there are 1,700 Discord servers (spaces on the social networking site Discord) with over 1.8 million people on them dedicated purely to vampire fiction. So that’s some niche stuff… but hang on, that’s pretty nice – are there any billion-dollar brands that have been built on top of that very niche thing? and they go, well, Twilight.”
“I don’t care if your title is Chief Digital Officer. If you think that being digital is buying ads on the internet, you fundamentally don’t understand what digital is. And this is where we are. Right now we have a situation where we have so many brands pouring their energy, time, and money into this black hole of diminishing marginal returns. Meanwhile, the smallest tweak away from demographics would get them into a totally different category of growth.”
“I almost feel like I have to sit down with Chief Marketing Officers and say, ‘OK, here’s a book for two-year-olds. The cat is in the box, the cat is on the chair [participating in internet culture is being in the internet, buying advertising is being on the internet]. It’s that basic… but literally I am sitting with CMOs and they’re asking ‘so we’re not in the internet?’. No. you’re interrupting the internet.”
When asked to describe trends in User Experience, Constantine Gavrykov’s immediate reaction is to discuss the emergence of the virtual world and advances in mixed reality. He points out how new technology continues to push brands into making the interactions they have with customers even more deliberate.
Constantine has a background in video game development, a discipline that marries creative design with computer logic. Therefore he has an innate understanding of how brands can navigate both the real and digital worlds.
Top of mind for Constantine is mindful technology. That is, reducing the noise online and being more selective when communicating with customers, with the goal of achieving a deeper, longer lasting relationship.
"Mindful technology is the trend in user experience, or customer experience, that refers to that unfortunate practice of brands being quite loud for quite a while, as the number of notifications, messages and different communications that we (consumers) get are ever-increasing," he says.
Technology giants Microsoft, Apple and Google have introduced tools, such as tracker transparency features, that reduce the ability for brands to roam unheralded around their ecosystems. This makes it even more necessary for brands to lift their communications above the transactional and provide greater value in the conversations they have with their users.
Constantine says there are multiple phases of communicating with customers in e-commerce, starting with the discovery phase. Once a consumer comes into the brand’s ecosystem, it’s possible to know a little about them and use that information to provide a more personalised experience.
It’s therefore important for marketers to have a lifecycle communications strategy that is tailored to the multiple stages of a customer’s interaction with the brand. From the first purchase through to upselling and cross selling, prompting the customer to share their experience, and then ultimately having that customer become an advocate of the brand.
What does authenticity mean? That’s a question every brand should ask itself, says Constantine. "There is no silver bullet that would answer this question for all brands. Every brand should understand exactly what authenticity means for them," he says.
The consumers coming of age today, Generation Z, expect brands to take a stand. "When they’re buying something, they want to look beyond the purchase, to what the societal values, status, social messages that brand has."
Contributing to the "social fabric" might mean taking a stand in an area that isn’t even directly related to the part of the industry your brand plays in, Constantine notes. But the idea is to be where your consumers are, so you can be part of the dialogue that they are engaged in.
Being authentic is also about being open – providing more detailed information about how your products are made, and where they are made. Constantine says consumers are very interested in learning about the specifications of how your product is created. In short, they want to know how your product came into being – who and what was involved.
Meanwhile, customers are increasingly only trusting those whom they have personal relationships with, such as their family and friends, rather than authority figures and institutions. It can be incredibly powerful to create advocates at this intimate level, what Constantine terms the "micro influencers".
"The way to get into these circles is to find who the micro influencer is within the family, usually – and it depends on the category of the products – it is the younger generation. It seems the older ones are quite trusting and are listening to them," says Constantine.
This works on a global level, making TikTok and Instagram still useful and relevant channels for communicating with your customers. The apps target younger customers, who take them back to the family, where their parents are open to adopting them into their own lives.
The concept of personalisation has been around for a while, the idea that it is more effective for brands to target groups of people with specific messages, rather than mass marketing. What is changing – or rather evolving – is how to go about personalisation, as brands move further towards reaching the illusive "segment of one".
Constantine says that before brands might have segmented people into cohorts, but they are now starting with categories. "So, you have runners, but then you can have a casual runner, a beginner, or an experienced recreational athlete," he explains.
In other words, it’s not what the customer is (their age, ethnicity, income) that matters, it’s how they behave, that is worth tuning into. Of course, some of that primary data does come into play but it’s the more practical information, such as the size of their feet or where they live, that matters.
Developing deeper relationships with your wholesale partner can assist with more efficient delivery. By turning their facilities into distribution centres, you don’t need fulfilment centres, especially if your wholesaler has multiple locations. "It depends on what kind of brand we are talking about," Constantine notes. "You can also turn your own bricks and mortar stores into fulfilment centres."
The difficulty can also lie in production lines, especially if you are looking to extend personalisation through to providing every conceivable size and product profile to cater to an individual’s specifications. "I think 3D printing is single-handedly one of those innovations and technologies that is going to change it, as it can bring manufacturing that much closer to you, the consumer."
It is possible, and it is increasingly the practice of many brands, to create and market their products without focusing on gender first. That is, to present information about the product – its size, colour, style – in a way that caters directly to an individual’s body type and personal style before the consideration of gender comes into play.
"It’s about giving them the possibility – 'can I really start my journey not from choosing men, women or kids, but from choosing a particular category of products, and then what colour I like, what size I am?'" Constantine says. He notes that it depends too on whether that suits the consumer's way of shopping.
Just as we might look beyond traditional ideas of grouping consumers, so too is it possible to look beyond physical reality and explore what a brand looks like in the virtual world.
"The example right now is to take a look at the gaming world, so Fortnite (online game) I would say statistically is one of the biggest apparel retailers out there, even though this apparel doesn’t exist in the real world. This is just the virtual skins and the items you are utilising in a game," Constantine says. "Nevertheless, people pay for them, people enjoy them." Another example is NFT – Non Fungible Token – which is a unique piece of digital artwork verifiable by a smart contract.
"The garments have been specifically created only for digital use, and therefore they don’t need to be bound to the limitation of the physical world. They can have additional specifications that can be animated, they can use fabrics that would never be possible in the real world, they can be much more interesting to look at," Constantine says.
Constantine has been able to gather key insights into the ways brands can connect and interact with their customers. We had a chat with Constantine to gather his top tips for delivering customer value and how to become more people-centric and people-driven.
Watch the videos and then view his tips below.