Knowing Your Audience in the Age of Rapidly Changing Consumer Behaviour

a person typing on a laptop with a credit card close by
a person typing on a laptop with a credit card close by

Understanding your audience is challenging at the best of times, even when consumer behaviour is predictable, but Covid-19 has made this that more difficult since the way we live, eat and shop has rapidly transformed. It, therefore, brings little surprise that a recent Marketing Week and Econsultancy study found that 53% of marketers believe the Covid-19 pandemic caused ‘radical’ or ‘significant’ changes to the customer journey.

As leaders do their best to steer their organisations through uncertainty, one of the key changes we’ve seen is the relocation of budget and attention from acquisition to retention. More than 78% of enterprise/ medium-sized companies and almost 65% of small businesses said that customer-centric agility has increased in importance as a result of the pandemic.

But what do we mean by customer-centricity and how can we keep up with rapidly changing consumer behaviour? We asked a handful of industry experts their advice for brands wanting to engage audiences of today. Here’s what they said…

Q: How do you think COVID-19 has shifted audience behaviour?

Kian Bakhtiari, Forbes CMO Network contributor, quote about how audience behaviour has shifted due to covid-19. "From a marketing perspective, most brands will need to rip up their marketing playbook and radically update their customer personas and communication strategy because ‘same old’ doesn’t work in a new world."

The current pandemic has no real comparison point in modern history. This means most historical data is at best incomplete, and at worse, irrelevant. What we do know is that moments of crisis often reshape our cultural values and individual psyche. From a marketing perspective, most brands will need to rip up their marketing playbook and radically update their customer personas and communication strategy because ‘same old’ doesn’t work in a new world.

The pandemic is likely to produce two distinctive behavioural archetypes: people who have embraced a new lifestyle and those who have largely remained unchanged. Some brands will need to figure out how to win back old customers with new mindsets. Whereas other brands will use the opportunity to steal market share by appealing to consumers' newly formed lifestyles. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers. 

In order to stay on top, brands need to adopt a more responsive approach to consumer research and their communication strategy by embracing real-time qualitative insights and building communities of advocates to source an ongoing stream of ideas and inspiration to fuel new growth opportunities."
- Kian Bakhtiari, Forbes CMO Network contributor

Mark Schaefer, author of "Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins”, quote about keeping on top of audience trends. "It's important that we don't dwell on worst-case scenarios - that almost never happens. Instead, think about the highest likelihood these factors will be changing and if you’re ready to meet the needs.”

"Many consumer trends will change, some will go back to normal. The trick is to determine which ones will stick. I am advising my clients to absorb as much information as possible, and not take any assumption for granted. Whatever we thought we knew about consumers cannot be counted on now, and we need to re-learn with urgency.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How will our customer spending habits change? Will they have less to spend?
  • Are they buying products the same way, or are they purchasing through new channels?'
  • Have new competitors emerged? Have old ones gone away?
  • Can we demonstrate our value to customers like before or have sales and marketing processes been disrupted?

It's important that we don't dwell on worst-case scenarios - that almost never happens. Instead, think about the highest likelihood these factors will be changing, and if you’re ready to meet the needs.”
- Mark Schaefer, author of "Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins”

Jonathan Chan, Digital Project Manager / Community Manager, Dentsu Aegis Network, quote about keeping on top of audience trends, "Social listening has become essential for a better understanding of the needs of users in order to guide brand decisions, whether they are corporate, commercial, marketing or even advertising decisions."

"In a time of crisis, we are witnessing a perpetual renewal of uses from the customers and it’s more important than ever for brands to take context into account by listening to their audience. Social listening has become essential for a better understanding of the needs of users in order to guide brand decisions, whether they are corporate, commercial, marketing or even advertising decisions.

More than ever, brands need to be audience-centric by responding to the needs of consumers directly. This is the end of superficiality and the return to authentic and proximity-based communication. Brands need to accelerate their commitment to strong values, consumers have become more uncompromising and will want proof of brands' actions. On social media uses, brands must avoid top-down messaging and switch to 'conversational mode' in order to ensure responsive customer service and provide answers to customers. Encouraging interaction, co-creating generously and being helpful have become the new concepts post-crisis."
- Jonathan Chan, Digital Project Manager / Community Manager, Dentsu Aegis Network

Q: Persona maps are a great way to personify your audience.  What common mistake do companies make when creating audience persona maps and what should they do instead?

Tjalling Simoons, Marketing Director Germany & Alps, Bacardi, quote about persona maps, "The present-day availability of data gives us the luxury of conducting such deep analysis of the target consumer and building media touchpoint strategies so tight to their exact behaviour that we lose sight of the benefits of the overspill effect of broader media."

“Audience persona mapping is a great tool to get under the skin of the target consumer when building marketing plans. Qualitative and quantitative data can be used in the process.

Often the qualitative angle is used to paint a more personal and relatable picture of the persona. A key ‘watch out’ here is the blurred industry lens. Whether we like to admit it or not, quite often our perceived reality is affected by several factors.

Firstly, it is hard to take a step back from our in-depth knowledge about the industry we are in. Secondly, we often overlook that our own demographic reality is not always equal to that of the majority of our consumers (e.g., education, income, trend-sensitivity & urban living). Having worked in the food and spirits industry for 14 years, I’ve often encountered marketers and agencies forgetting that we are privileged to be enjoying high-end cocktails or haute-cuisine dinners in trendy places, they forget that even trendy consumers might still struggle to mix their gin and tonic or cook their spaghetti bolognese.

Another challenge I see is overdoing the exercise. The present-day availability of data gives us the luxury of conducting such deep analysis of the target consumer and building media touchpoint strategies so tight to their exact behaviour that we lose sight of the benefits of the overspill effect of broader media. As an example, we ran a campaign a few years back where our persona mapping enabled us to have a hyper-targeted media approach to the core of our target audience. Based on this we tightly ran social and digital campaigns and cut mass media. As an effect, we lost top-of-mind awareness amongst the slightly broader audience as our media did not have any overspill. Despite this audience not being the recruitment target, this broader group accounted for a substantial size of our business, which we endangered by being too tight.

So, let’s be conscious of our own blurred lenses and consider the benefits of media-overspill.
- Tjalling Simoons, Marketing Director Germany & Alps, Bacardi

Q: What does customer centricity mean to you?

Mike John Otto, Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Deloitte Digital / ACNE, quote about customer centricity, "“To me, customer centricity means finding the passion point between the brand’s purpose, the human drive, and cultural relevance."

“To me, customer centricity means finding the passion point between the brand’s purpose, the human drive, and cultural relevance.

My work always starts from the Passion Point, and I use this as a springboard for creating the narrative of messages and targeting them at the right time to relevant audience members.

With the triad of the brand's purpose (i.e. Why does my brand exist in the world), what drives audiences, and what’s culturally relevant, you have what I call the Passion Point: a shared passion that works authentically between brand, society and people.

Only those who identify the passion point that functions authentically between brand and society can truly create successful communications, leading products or sustainable brand strategies. This is what I call: Culture-Driven Narrative Experiences.

If I develop a narrative out of an insight or a problem that connects my brand and my product with current developments in society and can communicate this in a way never seen before, then I have successfully differentiated.

A narrative experience means exactly that - to create an experience that has a lasting impression on people. For me, this is (besides workflows and tools) true human centricity. I try to offer people (on behalf of the brand) a real experience that solves their problems or simply becomes a valuable experience.

Ask yourself the following questions: why does my brand exist?, what do I embody as a brand?, and how can I position the brand to reflect the audience and society's needs. Through the process of answering these questions, you’ll gain clarity for yourself and the target groups you’re serving. Answers may lead you to spot gaps in the market and drive innovation, as well as to develop a better understanding of your target group and their mindsets based on a social impulse.

All this - in my understanding - is a customer, or even better, a human-centric brand approach.”
- Mike John Otto, Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Deloitte Digital / ACNE

Q: Why is customer-centricity important in modern communication strategies?

Anthony Rochand, CEO & Co-Founder of LEW, strategist and trainer, quote about the importance of customer-centricity, "Being customer-centric is a corporate culture, a true vision in which each employee must believe and which must guide different tasks, whether it be marketing or communication.”

"The "customer-centric" aspect is primordial to drive a communication strategy effectively. Above all, it is a marketing matter because prospects must move forward and progress through the sales funnel and it is important to provide them with an experience that is truly adapted to their needs. It is necessary to acquire flawless customer knowledge in order to focus the entire digital marketing strategy on all potential customer expectations. The objective is to offer a customer experience that is as personalized as possible (we are in the era of hyper-personalization) in order to have a differentiating approach from that of the various competitors.

Being customer-centric is a corporate culture, a true vision in which each employee must believe and which must guide different tasks, whether it be marketing or communication.”
- Anthony Rochand, CEO & Co-Founder of LEW, strategist and trainer in influence communication and social media marketing

Q: Can you give an example of customer-centricity?

on Eshuijs, Product Manager, Air France-KLM, quote about customer-centricity, "While in charge of developing chatbots for an airline, the chatbot itself was never our focus. The customer was. The customer was in the lead, not the chatbot. That paid off. They came back, as we wanted, to continue the dialogue with our most precious asset.”

“Your customers are your most valuable asset, and they are all different. Their culture, their history and their current emotional state related to your brand or product are non-identical. While in charge of developing chatbots for an airline, the chatbot itself was never our focus. The customer was. The customer was in the lead, not the chatbot. That paid off. They came back, as we wanted, to continue the dialogue with our most precious asset.”
- Jon Eshuijs, Product Manager, Air France-KLM

Q: How can companies become more customer-centric?

Moritz Klämt, Digital Transformation and Brand Building, Henkel, quote about customer-centricity, "Nowadays, there are so many different opportunities to analyze actual consumer behaviour through digital signals that drive accessibility."

“Many of us 'digital immigrants' have grown up using qualitative research like focus groups as main instruments to drive consumer insights. Nowadays, there are so many different opportunities to analyze actual consumer behaviour through digital signals that drive accessibility. Speed to capitalize on consumer centricity is mainly limited by the organization you can build to transform the data into action.” 
- Moritz Klämt, Digital Transformation and Brand Building, Henkel

Q: 88% of professionals say they need to better understand how to measure their return on investment. How do you measure whether your content is resonating with your target audience?

Carmelo Russo, Owner of Social DNA quote about measuring content marketing, “Well, firstly knowing who you want to define as your target group and what objectives you want to reach are major strategic questions that need to be answered in order to measure results accordingly."

“Well, firstly knowing who you want to define as your target group and what objectives you want to reach are major strategic questions that need to be answered in order to measure results accordingly.

Marketers should define overarching target groups and goals (and more) and reflect on them whenever they plan, create and publish content (organically and paid). Only then you can base the success of your content on business-relevant parameters like visits to a website, impressions, video views or social interactions. And of course, the content itself is at centre stage here. It should always be relevant and useful for your target audience.

Measuring whether your content is resonating with your target group depends on a combination of those factors. Was it a link you shared or a video? Should people go to your website or leave a comment? Did you include a call to action that guided your target group to the desired action?

As you can imagine, there are lots of questions and factors (more than mentioned here) that need to be straightened out in order to accurately measure whether content is received well by a target group. Once this is cleared beforehand, social networks give you lots of KPIs to look at and evaluate the performance of your content like the number of impressions, link clicks, video views, reactions, comments, shares, but also profile views, leads and shares in private messages. The list goes on.

Long story short: There is no “across board” answer to this question. User behaviour, content creation, distribution and consumption differ from platform to platform. The key here is to set make individual strategic decisions based on company goals and continuously test & learn plus benchmark results."
- Carmelo Russo, Owner, Social DNA

Want to learn more about optimising your strategies for today’s consumer? Read our new audience insights ebook here!