'Adapting to Changing Consumer Expectations' with Ian Marshall & Gail Bojarski (aka Mr & Mrs Benefit) and David Walmsley of Future Plc

'Adapting to Changing Consumer Expectations' with Ian Marshall & Gail Bojarski (aka Mr & Mrs Benefit) and David Walmsley of Future Plc Author: Claire Stewart Published: 6 March 2019

During a truly enjoyable evening with leaders from across beauty and lifestyle brands, we debated the current consumer landscape, changing behaviours and just how brands, old and new, can effectively compete in an increasingly fragmented consumer world. With representatives from brands such as KMI, Morphe, Black & Blum, Feelunique and Essity, we surmised a number of key learnings, our guiding principles to embracing a seamless consumer approach.

  1. Stay true to your brand ethos; we’ve all been there, under pressure to find a quick solution to a downturn in sales, pressure from retailers to find one-off, bespoke offerings or a ‘quick win’. Whilst considered and strategic partnerships can work, and the agility to react to a situation can be a real opportunity, we must be clear what our brand stands for and remain true to it. The very essence of our brand – what made us different in the first place and gives us credibility with our consumers – must be at the forefront of our decisions. When we lose this, we become no more than a traded commodity; we erode our brand value and, sadly, become the winner in a race to the bottom.
  2. We need a vision, not just a plan; focusing on the longer term health of the business, not on short term gains, will see your business prosper rather than flounder at the next hurdle. Short term thinking will not safeguard a business and its future.   
  3. Embrace social engagement; for many brands, social interaction is the backbone of their media and brand awareness strategy, but this is not the case in many less socially interactive sectors. I’ve often heard the risk of being active on social media cited as a reason to keep it at arm’s length. This is brand suicide; if you’re not going to engage with your consumers in the forums in which they are actively participating, how are you going to remain relevant? Whilst we can’t control what others may say about us, we know that social media is self-advocating. Per point 1, stay true to your brand ethos and your consumers will become advocates for you.
  4. Don’t lose your conviction; a really interesting point raised by Ian and Gail. So many times we have walked away from opportunities just before realising success. You know your business and consumers; don’t lose the hours of effort or investment walking away too early from what you perceive to be a real opportunity.
  5. Do upskill your team; having the right talent is imperative to success. Whilst some skills can be taught to keep an existing team on par, bringing new talent into a team is sometimes the only way to acquire the experience required for the business to move forward. Having a clear people strategy and good team communication can help others to see the benefit of welcoming new talent to a team. Everybody needs, and generally wants, someone they can learn from to continue their personal development.
  6. Don’t red tape your consumer; particularly in larger organisations, ‘red tape’ can dictate our decisions. We must always remember who our consumer is, put them at the heart of our decisions, and act accordingly.
  7. Communication is vital; the actual implementation of a new system or technology is relatively simple. Getting people on board and bringing them along the journey with you is by far the hardest part. Whoever is leading change or transformation in your business, be that an existing member of staff or new talent, be sure to appoint somebody with excellent communication skills and the ability to interact effectively at all levels.
  8. Communicating in a digital world; in addition to the above, we must be mindful of not losing the ability to communicate with people online where we can’t see or hear the other party, and are therefore missing a lot of the social cues we’re used to reading. Be clear how you’re going to communicate digitally to again ensure that seamless consumer experience.  This requires a consistent customer dialogue to be adopted across all areas of the business, often requiring the business to re-platform its systems. What is also clear in a digital world is that our dialogues must be honest and authentic – merely offering social interaction isn’t enough. Many companies get this very wrong and offer a terrible convoluted service; we must provide our consumers with confidence and be very aware of how we’re portraying our brands via this channel.
  9. The high street still has an opportunity to diversify; whilst we are experiencing a transformational shift in consumer behaviour to online interaction and purchasing, we can see evidence of a clear role for retailers on the high street. A passion for storytelling and enveloping our consumers in a brand experience is something that works for the high street. Whilst digital interaction is becoming more and more advanced, giving our consumers an unforgettable experience plays directly into the hands of physical store formats, but we must give people a reason to get out of their pyjamas, leave their front room and come into store.
  10. Village lifestyle still holds appeal; further to the above point, whilst many of the large consumer brands and retailers may well be already offering, or continually developing, a direct to consumer proposition, what they often aren’t providing is an artisan and highly differentiated product or service. People respond to people and, regardless of how advanced we become technically, the pull of that village community has very strong kerb appeal.
  11. The real value lies in our talent; our final output of the evening was recognising the talent in our business; the drivers, leaders and deliverers that add the real value to our business. Finding the right talent has become much, much harder. From employers having to look beyond their immediate sectors and networks to find the skills they need, to actually reaching those people we really want to engage who have even busier lifestyles and now require contacting via a plethora of new channels, it is harder than ever to find the right talent. Make this a priority in your business; commit the hours required to finding those people, or work with a professional firm to navigate new markets and access that talent pool.

Claire Stewart is a Consultant at Berwick Partners heading the Consumer Lifestyle Practice, engaging with and placing the next generation of leaders.                                             

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