Connecting with audiences has always been a challenge, but making the sort of authentic connections with particularly younger audiences can be very difficult indeed. Call them net natives or millennials or whatever – we’re talking the folks who were born and raised on the Internet.
As I work with established brands on strategies for making more authentic connections with their target audiences, and particularly younger audiences, I find that I keep running up against issues of fundamental import. These fit broadly into what I call the “three Ps”: Purpose, Product and People.
First and most fundamentally, established brands (and especially those that still adhere to late-20th Century marketing best practice) often have a Purpose problem. Put simply, they don’t express their values through a person-centered mission statement, the absence of which echoes across all marketing efforts. Brands must not only deeply understand their target audiences, but how what they do every day makes at least one human being on earth happier, healthier, wiser or more productive.
Saying, for instance, that your brand stands for “value” doesn’t speak to a human-centered need, desire or aspiration. It may express an approach to living or a worldview, but it doesn’t speak to how a consumer is better off for having bought your product.
In order to enter into an authentic and engaged conversation with your target markets, you must be able to speak to something that really resonates with your customer. By saying, simply, “we deliver the best value”, you speak to a base motivation: “save money.”
Instead, try expressing your true Purpose in ways that speak to a common aspiration, such as: “We want you to look your best every single day, and we make doing it affordable.” A statement like this connects to a deep emotional need many young Americans have, and opens an opportunity for real connection and a conversation starter. Using a Purpose statement like this to define and drive your go-to-market strategies, you can go beyond old-timey promotions like “act today and get an additional 20% off” coupons.
Expressing your company’s purpose in this way will make your audience feel there’s someone on their side – a partisan looking out for their best interests. It invites a dialog – and provides a jumping-off point for making an essentially human bond. You build a relationship through an authentic conversation and you build rapport; you build a real and lasting connection that leads to brand enthusiasts – and lasting brand loyalty – among your target audience.
Which brings me to the second P: Product.
Too often, even companies that have the right purpose in mind – one that really resonates with their target audiences – can get the product all wrong. In my experience, this usually stems from being disconnected in some fundamental way from the day-to-day concerns of your target audience. Look at any proven tastemaker brand and you’ll see an innate sense of what is exciting or alluring to, or a very practical need for, a target audience at work.
Today, brands must be willing and able to both listen to and observe their target markets in ways that go beyond controlled focus groups or other traditional market surveys. This is most often achieved through active listening and observation – the kind that’s done via Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest and even city streets or cafes.
Products that are both responsive to and lead the tastes of those in your target audience almost always come from a very personal, very deep connection with that audience. And because tastes and trends emerge quickly these days, there’s just no time to do the old fashion focus group tests. Better to log on, get your fingers on a virtual pulse, and then quickly translate what you’re seeing and hearing into products that are irresistible to your audience.
This is where the People piece of the three Ps is so critical. The right people in the right places make all the difference in the world. Because today’s young audiences demand authentic engagement wherever they go, online or off, they expect those with whom they interact to reflect their values and worldviews. They expect to align with brands that are, in fact, a reflection of their own personal brand. Which means brands must be expressed in more overtly human terms than they have in the past.
By having real humans in place throughout your business who reflect the passions and interests and goals of those you seek to serve, you increase the odds that your own purpose and products will align more perfectly with the people in your audience.
Many, many established brands got used to talking past their audiences to speak to more base motivations. These sorts of brands think, for instance, that by setting up a Facebook Page where they flog their discount coupons, they’ve nailed “social”. Social networks are called that for a reason! They try to mimic the types of social interaction you find in the real world. Facebook newsfeeds are really nothing more than old fashion water cooler chatter. But it’s still essentially human conversation. Not hawking. Not flogging. Not promoting. Conversation!
And real, authentic two-way dialog requires real, authentic humans on either side of the conversation. It doesn’t mean you can’t leverage contemporary technologies and strategies to scale the conversation efficiently; but also doesn’t mean you can fall back on traditional, soulless mass-communication speak that is devoid of any real human content.
If even one of the three Ps is missing from your market approach, or is in some way broken or misaligned, get out of the weeds of your day-to-day marketing tactics and fix those fundamental problems. Until you do, you’ll keep talking past the people you want to connect with most deeply – the same people who will only respond when they’ve been properly engaged, human-to-human.
Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.