In our current era of transparency and real-time marketing, brands are investing more and more in creating relationships with their consumers.
Today’s marketing models attempt to put brands in the room 24/7. And yet, these very same models are actually causing brands to miss out on the most meaningful connections with consumers. What are the models getting wrong? And how can brands more accurately identify the moments that matter most?
Take, for example, a recent global marketing study undertaken at a fast-moving consumer goods company. The marketers spent a lot of money and time defining one of their key segments—“luxury ladies”—along a variety of demographic and psychographic parameters. Their designers even created (now de rigueur) glossy visuals to communicate internally what this segment was all about: essentially being rich and seducing rich men. But after weeks of trying to find women who fit their segmentation algorithm, they were stumped. Not one of the hundreds of people they tried to recruit fit their model.
The segment was so abstract that these people didn’t exist in the real world; they were an approximation of an approximation of reality.
Meanwhile, in the midst of madly searching for examples to support theoretical models, the very same company was missing out on a major shift happening with real women in the real world. The younger generation of women was insulted by marketing implications that they would need a man to fulfill their dreams. Instead, these women—real women living out their real aspirations—were excited by opportunities that communicated independence and entrepreneurialism.
They flocked to the brands sensitive enough to tap into these values. In the end, the market segmentation “luxury ladies” was worse than useless. It actually impeded the company’s ability to discern a major opportunity and it missed forming an authentic connection with a new generation of consumers.
A similar disconnect occurred recently when a major spirits company conducted a global study on the ritual of the girls’ night out, not surprisingly one of the company’s highest value occasions. The core scope of the study was defined by the parameters of the occasion: the time between the arrival of the first girlfriend to the departure of the very last girlfriend.
At the last minute, the company also decided to expand the scope of its study and spend more time with these young women, observing their lives for multiple days before and after the occasion. What they learned in this ancillary study was that the most important moments in the experience of the girls’ night out happened much earlier in the week, in the days spent preparing for the event. It wasn’t just that the touchpoints were all in that timeframe, it was that most of the conversations and decisions that made the ritual valuable to these women were happening before.
The company had spent the majority of its budget targeting the wrong moments—the night itself—because its models were only designed to understand and target discrete occasions: the girls’ night out. Only when it made an attempt to see the interrelationships between this one event and the greater context of the girls’ lives did they realize their mistake. By that time, however, it was too late. The missed opportunity ended up costing the company millions in inefficient marketing activities.
Marketers need a richer understanding of the context of consumers’ lives to be present for the moments that matter most. Rather than using occasions models and abstract segmentation models, we need marketing models that go beyond Excel spreadsheets. We need to show how an emotion at one point in time affects another and how products sit in relation to these ever-changing emotional dynamics. We need research that reveals the greater context of our consumers’ lives so we don’t work from these misguided—and ultimately costly—assumptions about what matters.
Working with the concept of moods provides a better way forward: Moods consider context—what’s happening around the person—in the same breath as the person’s individual desires and needs.
Consider a recent example from a large global athletic gear company. The company had extensively researched deeply entrenched and complex consumer segmentations, occasions models, and benefits frameworks that together served as the foundation of its global marketing strategy. But these models weren’t doing a good job of keeping up with a large, rapid shift in the running market—namely the shift of running from being an elite, technical sport to a democratic one. This particular shift prompted the company to take a fresh look at how it understood this market prompted by this notion of moods.
After identifying some basic facts about who was buying its running gear and the types of situations where the running gear was used, the company conducted contextual research into how people run—what runs feel like, why people run, and so on. What they found was surprising at the time, but painfully simple in retrospect: The meaningful differences in the market had much less to do with different types of runners (e.g., consumer segments) and more to do with different types of runs. The company was able to identify a handful of distinct runs, each characterized by a mood—for instance the "bad-ass run," (think urban ninjas running and jumping through the city at night), the "cocoon run" (long, slower, solitary runs that are good for introspection and reflection), and so on.
Chopping up the market in terms of moods rather than traditional marketing models reorganized the company’s strategy. Rather than targeting types of people (e.g., hard-core athletes vs. casual yoga moms), the company was targeting people in different running moods. Each mood had a look and feel that affected the way people selected shoes, apparel, even music. Each mood was a complete experience, with a whole host of specific product, communication, and channel implications for marketing.
Of course, moods aren’t necessarily the right model for every brand. What the running moods example illustrates, however, is that there are alternative ways of modeling differences within a market that are better at accounting for consumer context. And with that comes a whole new market understanding, with new product innovations and marketing strategies enabling the brand to leap ahead of the competition simply because it is looking at real people and not approximations of approximations.
The more we understand the rich context of our consumers’ lives, the closer we can get to their most meaningful moments. As global brands, it’s time to get back in the room.