Whether as the result of COVID19, Brexit or political unrest, we’re certainly experiencing substantial societal disruption right now. Emotions are running high and brands, even if they don’t realise it, are walking a tightrope when it comes to their consumer communications.
The trouble is that although marketers tend to specialise in understanding and segmenting consumers by personality metrics and transactional data, they’re not always so well versed in anticipating and acting on situational context.
Way back in 1973, a landmark study from two Princeton psychologists demonstrated just how important, even seemingly ‘small’, contextual factors are in influencing behaviour. In the study, the primary determinant of participant behaviour was shown to be context (in this case, the time-pressures that people faced in their willingness to stop and help others) and not personality traits.
Writing on the study in recent years, professor of psychology, Glenn Geher, Ph.D reflected that we often think of personality driving behaviour but, “in reality, dispositional factors are relatively weak predictors of what we do – while situational factors, which often seem benign or inconsequential, play powerful roles in shaping our behaviors.” This has big implications for marketers.
Brands must tread carefully, especially now. What works well on one occasion can be disastrous if repeated in a different context, and things are certainly very different at the moment.
Rubbing Salt Into The Wound
For brands that fail to take situational context into account, the results can be disastrous. The aviation industry – and those it serves – have suffered amidst the global pandemic. Contentious decisions have been made that have put strains on business and consumer relationships. Recognising and acknowledging that strain is important in fostering authentic relationships, but unfortunately, all too rare.
Case in point; a leading airline recently cancelled the flights of my colleague and her family, which she had booked for them to go away on holiday. She was only offered vouchers to rebook flights at a later date, rather than a refund. This was no good, as her daughter was starting university. The opportunity had been missed.
For the family, the cancellation was a big deal and so too was the refusal of a refund. At the very least, the airline should have had some level of appreciation of the resulting frustration and sadness, and had provisions in place to account for such sensitivities in its future communications. Instead, it continued to target her with ‘great offers’ and its mainstream marketing. The result was effectively rubbing salt into the wound and straining the relationship further.
The point is that airlines may know where, when and how customers like to fly. They may be able to target according to that information. But if they don’t take important current day, contextual data into account they’re playing a dangerous game.
Getting the context right is about understanding the detail. Morrisons Supermarkets is an example of a company that’s got it right recently, in my opinion. It noticed its food bank was being overwhelmed with the same products, such as pasta and bread. At a time when free school meals and the need for food banks was at the forefront of media coverage, they wanted to tackle the issue sensitively; not discouraging shoppers from gifting donations and addressing the issue in a helpful way. Given the pandemic, it also needed to take into account customer concerns about touching products before passing them on, through fear of spreading the virus. So Morrisons worked with local food banks to see what they needed, and compiled pre-bagged ‘Pick Up Packs’ for shoppers to purchase. It listened to local food banks, listened to its customers, facilitated support of a prominent cause and took onboard important situational factors, to solve the problem. By tweaking its approach, Morrison’s has been able to continue and improve its commitment to helping good causes.
Contextual insight has not been easy to obtain through traditional data gathering methods such as transaction data scraping and inference. It requires a different approach; it requires brands to ‘earn’ the data.
The future of data collection will rely on the emotions consumers are sharing – what they’re feeling, what their situations are, and how their experiences fit together. For that to happen, consumers must feel like what they’re receiving in return is worth it.
At 3radical, we help organisations earn data through Gamification, the application of game-design, behavioral economics, and motivational psychology in ‘non-game’ contexts. It provides a way of collecting data by engaging consumers through clear value exchange. People not only consent, but volunteer data in return for better experiences.
Gaining consented, direct data opens up a lot more opportunities to accurately determine context. Appropriately acted upon, the open and honest nature of the approach only strengthens authentic relationships.
It’s time to think of consumers as real people, with real, nuanced lives, rather than as just email addresses and segments. And with such seismic shifts happening to us and around us, what we knew about our customers when we started 2020, might be very different today.