For many marketers, data is just a four-letter word. They believe that continuous analysis and the demand for a scientific basis for marketing action will squeeze and kill art and inspiration. In all parts of the 'brand-consumer interaction', a massive change has occurred. Thanks to data and what is done with it, the focus has changed from “how does it work?” to “how does it feel?”
Concurrently, technology has made great strides in the understanding of the human brain. There is much greater evidence-based confirmation of how conscious processing and subconscious emotions play a role in our decision making. We are more knowledgeable about how the brain perceives the outside world. We can map how memory works. Nevertheless, it is still inconclusive. No universal rules have been framed. Nothing is definitively predictable. The human mind appears messy and irrational. It operates via abstraction and is reliant on an awareness that lurks mostly below conscious levels.
But this should not deter marketers. In fact, it should encourage us to know that there are deep, hidden and dormant aspects to our mental processes where science can meet art. We should recognise that brand building, advertising, marketing research and product innovation are all partners in an enterprise where outcomes are probabilistic.
The brain is unconscious, lazy, emotionally charged and irrational. Creativity can use this and even exploit it. Science can monitor its effectiveness and discover more such opportunities. In 2016, the word 'post-truth' was included in the Oxford English dictionary, a comment on the lure of semi-fact or fiction.
Search marketing has turned consumer interaction into a 'surveillance first' operation. But in combination with social media, it has also inaugurated an era of transparency. More information is available on everything than ever before. Still, the presumption that with this abundant information consumers will make more rational decisions and opt for more considered purchasing is simply not true. Rationality requires the hard work of thinking. It demands being above one’s biases. This is an exceedingly difficult thing for humans to do. Consumers have become 'cognitive misers' with this very overload of information. Consumers don’t merely buy brands, they 'buy into brands'.
In 1999, Robert Heath pioneered work on 'Low Involvement Processing'. A purchase decision is the outcome of interactions with deeply ingrained brand associations rather than a rational processing of active, top-of-the-mind information. The big idea was that our relatively passive processing is nonetheless powerful.
Of course, the more serious the investment the more one forces oneself to research, compare and consider the purchase. Categories such as real estate, automotive, travel and high-end consumer electronics are obvious examples. Nevertheless, even here, it is a matter of degrees. Brands that engage emotionally are more likely to succeed simply because of the limited amounts of active attention consumers pay to brand messages.
The role of emotion will need to flow from consumer facing content to the entire gamut of activities right down to the final sale. This must now include online engagement and e-commerce as well. The line separating brand experience and transactional experience has been erased. Every interaction with a brand is remembered for its emotive value and not because of the guaranteed transactional outcomes.
How can we infuse every touchpoint with emotion? Begin by seeing emotion in every experience—store design, feel and finish, in-store environment including lighting, music, fragrance, brand events, community gatherings, personnel etc. All of these create emotional impact leading to “how it felt?”
The world of brands and commerce is being organised around the mobile phone, as the gateway to the internet. It is amongst the most personal and emotionally significant devices we own and every waking hour, our identity is shaped by it.
There is no option. Brands have to deal with the rise of ubiquitous and invisible technology and we have to infuse every touchpoint with emotion.
Technology has moved beyond the sheer experience of novelty. It is now an immersion and not an interface. Technology will become invisible and therefore, the entire language of interaction with technology is naturally on the cusp of a transformation.
I will end by quoting Clarke’s law which states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
Abracadabra, the future is here!
The writer is Global Head, Marketing at Royal Enfield. He writes regularly on brand building, social trends, history, technology and politics. Views expressed are personal
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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