Tumultuous times call for deeper consumer conversations that connect – or pervasive global consumer cynicism is going to eat marketers for breakfast. Advertising is being deliberately screened out. Our goal of setting off emotional triggers to connect has become even more challenging when we consider the three-second (or less) attention span afforded to advertising by the consumer these days. If you have not yet changed the way you speak to your consumers a year ago, now is the time to shift the dial. The reality is that your media and communications plan should have adapted by now.

From data to decisions

David Ogilvy once said about marketers that they rely too much on research, “and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamppost for support, rather than for illumination”. Sadly, at that point, Ogilvy did not enjoy the endemic access that we brand custodians now have to real-time consumer data and research.

The Big Data zeitgeist came long after – and it has unearthed some very rich territories for brands and marketers. In the absence of invasive consumer stalking, marketers have pathways to ethical qualitative tools to monitor trends and repertoires of topical interest through social listening. This is where we get to understand the depth of consumer reality that enables true and meaningful consumer engagement. Building robust product strategies or developing communications that talk to the current life needs of real people, or uncovering the opportunity to support social change initiatives that are close to the hearts of the very people you want to win over, is enabled by this deep listening.

 The implosion of trust

Talking to hearts and minds has never been more pertinent. Worldwide, consumers are demanding purpose over profit. The 2020 Edelman Trust barometer states that about 80% of South Africans build allegiance and affinity with brands that are seen to be solving societal problems. People are longing for meaning, for brands that are imbued with bigger purpose. The empirical fact of convincing someone to choose one brand over another is inevitably based on some sort of brand affinity or intrinsic value to the consumer. To build consideration and affinity, brands need to explicitly portray their very deep understanding of the current world views of their audience. Currently, the most commonly held view is anxious trepidation, according to the research. The world is worried about finances and future wellbeing rather than health, as one would assume amid a pandemic. So, what is a brand to do?

The brain magic of empathy

Neurologically there are two ways in which the brain responds to external stimulus: the one happens in the outer layer, where we come across a response that psychologists refer to as Theory of Mind. This is where we put ourselves in the position of the protagonist and pre-empt what we would do if we were the person being observed. The second response (the big deal for me) takes place in the frontal cortex, where oxytocin is released. Oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone”, acts as a neurotransmitter. It has been inextricably linked to how people bond with one another and things in general. Research also tells us that trust and co-operation are heightened on the release of oxytocin, which in turn supports the notion that when people truly believe that they are understood – when they believe that someone is acting in their best interests – they are more likely to favourably engage. This is an obvious reinforcement for brands to talk with a depth of human understanding.

Show your work

Heightened levels of anxiety and consumer trepidation have elicited never-seen-before levels of scepticism, with the erosion of trust in world leaders, institutions and business alike. Our job, as marketers, is to take this current state of anxiety and ameliorate the psyche by living up to human expectations. And further, to tell our stories of being the brands that are making the world a better place for those who live in it and for the generations to come, through our actions.

After all, the common law says “Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”, in order for the common person to develop trust in the legal system. People need to see you and to feel your presence through the great work that you do. So, show your work without crowing about it.

  • Wendy Bergsteedt is the group head of marketing at Coronation Fund Managers. She is a member of the 2020 FM AdFocus Awards judging panel


Worldwide, consumers are demanding purpose over profit.

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