When I was in Europe last month I got to speak to a very senior group of packaged goods people in Lausanne, Switzerland. The management consulting firm McKinsey had arranged the event to discuss what is very much top of mind in Europe: how to ignite growth. A tough issue. Historically, European business has been more comfortable with process diagrams and metrics than consumer desire. No wonder there is serious angst for a lot of businesses today as consumers take control. A.G. Lafley said recently that it's time for marketers to ‘let go.’ He added that "Consumers are beginning, in a very real sense, to own our brands and participate in their creation”. This is radical stuff for most manufacturers who are convinced they own their brands and that they know best what to do with them.
At the McKinsey meeting I posed six questions consumers have for brands.
1. How can I buy stuff and feel good about it? The pressures on manufacturers to be eco-friendly are intense and they’re not letting up. Serious attempts at being eco-friendly are rewarded, anything that smacks of ‘greenwashing’ is quickly uncovered and dismissed. Anything that shows you are indifferent is just as quickly dealt with.
2. Why does choosing have to take up so much of my time and attention? The Economist tells us that two-thirds of consumers feel constantly bombarded. Bombardment is a twentieth century idea. Connectors will ignite growth in the twenty-first century.
3. What can you offer me beyond price? Wal-Mart’s shift in focus from “Always Low Prices” to “Saving people money so they can live better lives” is huge. It’s smart, forward-looking and brave. As competition makes price a table-stake, manufacturers have to transform themselves if they are to grow.
4. What do you really know about me – and what do I know about you? The human thirst for authenticity is intense. It is pushing brands far beyond their comfort zones of smart market segmentation and savvy PR. People talking to people. That’s where we are headed.
5. What have we got to talk about? This is where it gets personal. A lot of brands have nothing interesting to say. They can talk about themselves and be the bores we all avoid, or they can work hard to become the relevant, fun, connected friends we want.
6. Can you keep up with me? This is where it gets tough, fast and tactical. Consumers are way ahead and they never stop pushing. Cool stores, new games, the latest mobile functions. If they can dream it, brands have to try to do it.