Four decades back, some big thinkers declared consumer need satisfaction as the core goal of marketing. They said that the job of marketing is to identify needs in the lives of consumers and deliver products and services to effectively fulfill those needs. That was great thinking at that time.
Then came the era of abundance, hyper production, hyper information and hyper competition. Marketers grew ambitious and started offering multiple brands in the limited need-spaces, in the urge to capture incremental market share. The consumer, on the other hand, got greedier and started asking for ‘more’ from the marketer. More of everything. More every time. Added to that was the tragedy of prosperity and hedonism. There was more money to be spent and more pleasure to be enjoyed. Life became an unending upward spiral of upgrades. Somewhere in this journey, consumers moved from ‘needs’ to ‘wants’. And the marketers moved from ‘delivering’ to ‘pandering’.
This gave birth to an animal we call the “slave brand”. The slave brand is in the business of giving the customers whatever she wants. “You want sweeter cakes? Here you go … You want extra cheese? Here you go.” Every slave must have a master, and for the slave brand, the customer became the master. Today, they can go to any extent to please the master.
This is not a sustainable model. Neither for the marketer nor for the consumer. The nature of consumer satisfaction keeps changing. As a result, the slave brand’s offerings keep changing. For the marketer, consumer satisfaction has become a moving mirage.
The consumer is faced with an even bigger challenge. They call it the ‘paralysis of choice’. Just an easy stroll in a ‘hypermarket’ will explain to you want I mean by this. Every category rack leaves one more confused rather than clearer about what to buy.
Making a choice has become tough for consumers. How to differentiate between all these choices? A recent series of studies, titled “When choice is de-motivating” provides the evidence. Overloaded by choices and information, more and more consumers just go for a ‘default choice’ option.
Default choice represents the most dominant or established viewpoint in the category, defined by its leadership position or social validation. The consumer tells herself – I will buy this because many others are buying this.
Need for guide brands
We are gradually moving towards a world where the consumers need guidance. They need help in choosing what is right and what is optimal. Marketers, on the other hand, are realising the need to focus and rationalise. A few years ago, Unilever decided to let go of ‘many’ and chose a few ‘power brands’ to build and strengthen its position in the market. Many other companies have followed suit.
What the market needs today are ‘guide brands’. These brands walk together with the consumer and help them navigate the world better. These brands have a great deal of empathy for the consumer’s reality. Together they search for meaning in a new life space. They do not want to be different; they want to make a difference in the consumer’s life.
They advise consumers on how to make the right choice.
Guide brands are not a new concept. Google Search invaded the minds of the consumers by helping them choose. Some years back, Tata introduced iodine into salt, because it realised that Indians were suffering from iodine deficiency. No consumer said, “I want more iodine.” Tata did not say, “You must aspire for more iodine.” It just did it. Consumers didn’t gravitate to an iPod because it gave more than an MP3 player, but because it offered them just what they needed. Think of Open Source operating systems, such as Ubuntu. These brands made consumers choose right.
If you are not a guide brand, actively creating new realities and consumer truths, you are either alienating them through hyper-satisfaction or frightening them with choices. One useful way of leveraging the guidance space is by bringing in external evaluators or endorsers, not to promote the brand but to help recommend the right choice to consumers.
It is time for all marketers and consumers to choose right over more. And when they do that, they will together co-create a new way of living where less equals more.
The writer is Senior VP, Quantum Consumer Solutions