June 28, 2012

Are Brands Overwhelming Consumers with Choice and Communication?

Last weekend, I was given the duty of visiting our local Wal-Mart to purchase household necessities.  A list was provided, and out the door I went, believing this would not be a problem.  One of the first things on my list was “toothpaste,” so I visited that aisle, which is where my problems started.  There appeared to be hundreds of choices – from mint, gel, blue, green, whitening, extra-whitening, tartar control and on and on.

That said, my list simply read “toothpaste.”

Needless to say, I was dumbfounded not only by the amount of the choices, but by which one I was supposed to purchase.  After several minutes of consideration and indecisiveness I almost gave up, but finally grabbed one that looked right and went on my way.  Naturally, this process (sans toothpaste) was repeated several times over during my trip.

Later in the day, I came across several articles in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) discussing this same type of situation and the number of brands that are inundating consumers with a vast amount of choices. In many cases, this is considered “choice overload.” The HBR conducted a survey of 7,000 consumers and found that a large majority of them had abandoned the traditional “purchase funnel” altogether, embarking on new types of purchase paths.  One of the main reasons for this is a “cognitive overload” due, in large part, to marketer’s overwhelming efforts to engage with them.

Most consumers today are shying away from the over-abundance of choices and instead are looking for simplicity and ease of decision-making.  With the hectic life most consumers lead, the last thing they want to do is spend multiple minutes on each product choice (in my case, spending fifteen minutes in a toothpaste aisle to make a choice was ridiculous).

This same type of over-engagement is happening on a local level and in the social sphere.  According to the Harvard study, most marketers still believe that the best way to keep customers is by engaging them, interacting as much as possible in order to create relationships.  However, this is rarely the case, especially with social media.  The study found that contrary to popular belief, the majority of consumers (77%) do not want to have a “relationship” with a brand.  Relationships are reserved for family and friends, not businesses.  Of those who did say they had a brand relationship, the main reason was because of shared values (64%), infrequent engagement or interaction.  For example, consumers may share the value with Pedigree that all dogs deserve a loving home and identify with Pedigree for that reason, not because Pedigree sends multiple emails or has several lines of “touch points” with the consumer.  What consumers really want from brands, especially when engaging them on a social site, is to get coupons and discounts, not posts and messages.

The over-engagement by brands and the increasing level of choices and options may very well be doing more damage than help to a brand.  Does this mean brands should immediately cut the quantity of communications with consumers?  Not necessarily, but following are nuggets all brands should consider:

  • What percent of consumers are “relationship-oriented” and which are not?  Each group should be marketed to differently based on these parameters.
  • What shared value might consumers have?  Many brands (like Pedigree and Southwest) market heavily upon these shared values, helping make their consumers more loyal.
  • Is current social engagement beneficial?  Posting on social sites should be more than just talking.
    Both types of consumers should be engaged by posting shared values and giving monetary rewards to fans and friends.

In the end, it is not the brand with the most communication that will win with consumers, but the brand that communicates smartly and effectively by knowing who they are talking to and what that person wants to hear.

Categories: Uncategorized

June 13, 2012

Has Apple Put Google in the Crosshairs?

Sunday evening, while flipping through the channels searching for something decent to watch, I came across what must have been the 1 millionth screening of War Games.  As you’d imagine, I paused to watch this 1983 gem of bad moviemaking, centered around nuclear war.  With Apple’s developers conference starting the next day, the movie reminded me of a quote from Steve Job’s biography where he said, “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

On Monday at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company made many announcements about new MacBooks, operating systems and expanded Siri capabilities and their version of a mobile payment system called Passbook.  Scott Forstall, the SVP for iPhone software, also ran through some features of the upcoming iOS 6, many of which seem to be targeted directly at Google and perhaps signaling the first shots in Steve Job’s aforementioned “war.”

Most significant to search — and Google — was the announcement of the new Maps app, Apple’s mapping product that will be part of the iOS 6 update this fall.  Apple’s press release about the product detailed features of the Maps app, including turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic information and local search information for businesses, including Yelp ratings and reviews.  Most iPhone users currently default to Google Maps for local search information, but this new app could completely change that by greatly diminishing Google’s current dominance of mobile search.

Furthermore, according to Apple, the Maps app will be available on iPhones, iPads and iPods.  The prediction by eMarketer that iPad users will grow to 53.2 million this year, and that by 2015 more than one-third of internet users will have such a device, makes the Apple announcement even more significant.

Apple is even shutting Google out of the loop when it comes to providing local data, including business and crowd-sourcing information.  According to an Apple copyright page, sources for information include:

  • TomTom
  • Acxiom
  • LeadDog
  • Localeze
  • Wave
  • Yelp

While the buzz surrounding these changes is based on statements and demos, it appears that the new Apple Maps app offers competition for the products Google has in place.  Furthermore, Maps paired with a smarter Siri signal that Apple is moving forcefully into the search business.  Considering Apple’s strong track record with consumer adoption, this could very well be the beginning of significant changes in search and trouble for Google.