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4A’s StratFest 2019 Findings: Welcome to the Age of the Empowered Citizen.

Today’s consumers are asking companies to be increasingly transparent, innovative and plugged in to public discourse. Brands are reacting by placing the customer at the very center of their business decisions. At StratFest in New York City, our team explored how brand strategy is evolving in an increasingly consumer-centric landscape. Here are two of our key takeaways.

Consumers want brands to recognize them as people1

As the rise of IoT, AI and voice assistants makes us more informed and engaged, the influx of information has also fueled a loss of trust between brands and the public – a public that is more critical and more aware than ever before of the value they represent to brands and advertisers.

Brands can start to rebuild trust by recognizing that consumer needs generally boil down to a few basic things. The four essential customer needs listed below can be used as guiding principles for brands trying to (re)build trust with their customers:

  • People want new and meaningful abilities: Brands can offer products and services that align with the needs of their customers.
  • People want to get better at something: Brands can show how they can help support the customer’s goal.
  • People want personal connection: Brands can recognize customers as people with hopes, values, talents and flaws.
  • People want purpose: While it is unrealistic to expect brands to give purpose to their customers, brands can show humility about how they can fit into and improve their customers’ lives.

Humility can launch brands to the forefront2

Leading brands used to inspire consumers to think about the very edge of what is possible – far beyond what the average customer could likely achieve. And brands placed themselves at the center of their customers’ universe – overstepping in their promise of life-changing results from something like a sneaker or a credit card.

But in the age of Instagram and self-care, consumers have become “their own personal heroes” and aspire on an individual level. They want brands to support them in their journey and to validate their goals, values and beliefs.

Brand leaders now mirror everyday people: Casper Sleep stands up to a category that is too complicated and too expensive; Fenty leads the charge in representing people of color in fashion industry advertising; and Tesla recognized it couldn’t realistically address the carbon crisis on its own, so it open-sourced all its patents.

To better connect with consumers, brands can incorporate the five key aspects of the humble brand.

The humble brand is:

  • True to itself: It owns who it is.
  • Accessible: It is approachable and doesn’t promote an unattainable dream.
  • Self-aware: It knows its role in the lives of consumers and doesn’t overstep in the way brands used to.
  • Ever-evolving: It admits to mistakes and commits to improvement.
  • Responsive: It prioritizes consumer relationships over sales.

In this new paradigm, successful brands have shifted from inspiring fantastical dreams to adopting a more humble, human-scale approach to connecting with consumers. The customer is now at the center of the brand’s universe, rather than the other way around.

  1. Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer, Publicis Groupe.
  2. Chris Konya, principal and managing director, Sylvain Labs.

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