WE Communications’ global Brands in Motion report shows that consumer expectations are higher than ever before. Last year’s research found that consumers want to know how brands will use technology to make their lives better. This year, they’re increasingly fearful of how it will impact their privacy, and are calling for tech companies to take self-regulation seriously.
Alan VanderMolen, president international at WE Communications, kick-started the morning by offering key insights gathered from the study, including the tension around innovation and ethics, consumer fears, and the socio-political forces driving motion.
Innovation meets ethics
One of the most important findings of the study is the tension between innovation and ethics. The Brands in Motion research showed that 97 percent of consumers believe brands are responsible for their own ethical use of technology, and 94 percent said that if brands can’t do it themselves then governments should step in. Across Asia, worrying headlines surrounding brands, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the implications of GDPR, and most recently the Google+ bug that exposed private data, have changed the conversation.
The Brands in Motion report revealed consumers are afraid of technology disrupting their lives, with security being the number one concern globally. A staggering 84 percent of respondents fear that their personal data might not be secure, and 80 percent fear that they, or their family, could be compromised online. In China specifically, the number one concern towards technology was ‘my phone is listening to me’.
The research also revealed a market rooted firmly in the larger movements of our world, with political unrest and trade tensions having led to an increased focus on ethics. Innovation is the new buzzword, but being responsible in the development and application of that innovation is top of mind for consumers.
Despite this tension, it’s notable that 83 percent of consumers still think brands can provide stability in uncertain times. The opportunity is there for the taking, brands just need to step up to the plate and deliver. As VanderMolen puts it, “Consumers and enterprise customers are saying, ‘stop the use of hyperbole’ – they want proof over promise.”
The Motion Matrix
The Motion Matrix is the Brands in Motion diagnostic tool, which compares brands, categories and markets on the drivers of motion.
Sectioned into four quadrants—movers, agitators, providers and defenders— the x axis plots the average scores of a brand or category’s emotional drivers. The y axis plots the average of rational drivers. A full rundown of the matrix is available within the Brands in Motion 2018 white paper and shows brands where they sit across markets relative to other brands and industry sectors.
Transparency in technology
Following VanderMolen’s keynote was a diverse panel discussion featuring Fiona Tin, marketing and communications director at TimeVallée; Tony Chow, head of content marketing and partnership at Hong Kong Tourism board; and Jeremy Young, CMO at Sun Life Financial; with VanderMolen offering insights from an agency perspective.
Dovetailing off Brands in Motion insights, the conversation took a turn towards transparency in technology: “As a marketer, technology is supposed to make things easier, right? More convenient? But, I think it may actually make things more complicated,” said Chow. He went on, “…even on social media, you find consumers are asking, ‘is it real or is it fake?’ Well, it’s real, but you have to build that trust to have that confidence.”
This lack of faith that consumers seem to be harbouring is a sign of the times, but doesn’t need to define a brand’s voice. Instead of behaving cautiously, VanderMolen spoke of planting one’s flag firmly in a message that matters: “72 percent of consumers want their brand to take a stand. However, that stand has to fit with the brand, their company and their customer base. That’s when it really resonates.”
VanderMolen used Nike’s recent partnership with American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a shining example of such a move. It both fit the company’s image and products, and gave the sports giant a voice in a meaningful movement, but VanderMolen stressed “Nike has ‘permission’ to play in that space.” Young weighed in from a financial services perspective and said, “Every situation is different. If your brand is going to make a stand, it really has to fit with your personality.”
The big picture here is that, in a world where so much turmoil exists, brands can be bold and provide stability at the same time. Consumers are speaking their minds, and those that heed their words will fare far better than those that don’t. “It sounds like a simple concept,” said Chow, “but consumer engagement is more about listening, not speaking.”
VanderMolen summarised nicely, “Brands and marketers operate in a real-time environment, and when I look at the role marketers play, they’re shifting from communicating to engaging. You need to try to understand conversations that are happening around your brand and your sector.” He went on, “…you can pop into that discussion or you can pop out, but keeping your finger on the pulse of that conversation is really key to guiding a brand to the level of engagement you’re having.”