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    New world, new strategy: how to move from a customer focus to human-centricity

    In the first of a two-part series,  Annie Little of agency Initials explores how the world has been changed by pandemic, technology and uncertainty. But have marketers’ understandings of people kept pace? 

    A non-stop barrage of external life forces – health, social, environmental, political and economical – is affecting day-to-day decisions in unavoidable ways. As a result, consumers are becoming increasingly inconsistent in their decision making. These paradoxical behaviors are making it harder for brands to provide relevance to their customers. 

    These kinds of inconsistencies might not be new, but they’re becoming more normal. 69% of consumers globally think that paradoxical behaviors are both human and acceptable. However, amid the pressures and chaos of everyday life, what people want is simplicity. Delivering on this has become more complicated, with consumers now more comfortable with their multidimensionality.  

    What’s more, people are yearning for brands to demonstrate a commitment to their needs, over and above transactional purchases. Despite this, many businesses continue to see them in just one way: as walking wallets. 

    As the cost of living crisis adds heightened pressure to an already volatile situation, it’s time for brands to foster an innate and up-to-date understanding of consumer attitudes, behaviors and mindsets. How can this be achieved? Let’s take a look. 

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    The old playbook for relevance is dead; a new strategy is needed 

    Today, most brands still utilize pre-pandemic data to direct their campaigns and outdated frameworks to map the consumer journey. This linear journey walks through several stages and typically includes key milestones or decision points along that path. 

    The problem is, today’s world is anything but linear. Think about how just one device, your smartphone, opens up potentially infinite journeys. In a single day, most of us pivot between apps, web browsers, social media profiles, email providers, work software, videos, written content, and so much more. 

    Combine that with all of the real-world touchpoints we experience on a daily basis (conversations with friends, billboards on the way to work, radio ads on the drive home) and you have an almost impossible map of interactions to track. This can’t be confined to a static, linear journey. 

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    Here’s where it gets even more interesting. It’s not just about mapping the actions we take, the ads we see or the places we go; it’s also about understanding the driving forces that shape our decisions in the first place. 

    Oversimplifying segmentation and underestimating the impact of life forces on behavior has led to a growing disconnect between what brands think their consumers want and what consumers say they actually want. In short, the old playbook for relevance is now obsolete.  

    When developing advertisements, businesses once looked to a product-centric approach focused on performance. Then they shifted to a customer-centric strategy, prioritizing experience. Now, the dynamics are even more complicated.  

    In this new reality, we move away from a linear ‘research, find, buy’ model into a more fluid and seamless path to purchase. This can consist of any number of stages or phases, from which we apply behavioral science principles to combat cognitive biases. 

    It still adheres to fundamentals of marketing but has been adapted for a new age by bringing consumer behavior, psychology, innovation and data together in ways that recognize individual customer needs.  

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    Moving from customer centricity to human centricity  

    With various pressures and life forces pulling us in different directions, people are seeking simplicity. Not just in the products they buy, but in how brands treat them as human beings, acknowledging their needs extend beyond pure consumerism.

    Consumers are drawn to anything that cuts through the noise and makes their decision-making (and lives) easier. This is how the power of behavioral science is justified. Through it, we seek to understand human action beyond behavior and identify the societal, economic, psychological reasons that are influencing consumer decision making.  

    This shifts the focus away from the end action (i.e. an abandoned cart) and instead seeks to understand why the customer abandoned their cart. What was it that led to that decision? If it happened once, can it happen again? How can we close the loop and make sure we better understand our customers’ decisions – whether at checkout or initial discovery? 

    To answer these questions, brands must move from customer-centricity to human-centricity. This means adopting a ‘life-centric’ approach to marketing, one that takes into consideration the real-time behaviors and mindsets of the consumer, their shifting modes and the unpredictable life forces that come into play along the way. 

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    This must push against sedentary or unitary approaches using outdated customer segmentation based data to inform marketing communications.  

    Brands that engage with consumers as individuals are positioned to thrive. Those who understand the psychology of those consumers, well, they will be the real winners.

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