It gets tougher and tougher to sell to the average customer. Before Steven, an average white-collar worker in his late 20s decides to buy the new Samsung S4, Samsung has to jump through the media hoops to impress him. First a drummed-up launch event held in New York City and live-streamed over YouTube, then favourable reviews from top tech sites and lastly positive comments from friends who have used its predecessors. He is one of the 82 percent of consumers described in a study done by Forrester in 2012, who do their research across different sources before purchase.
This pattern is apparent in other industries. According to Social Media Today, 48 percent of consumers combine social media and search engines in their buying process. Most hotels increase their focus on online sales channels, reaching out to travellers on Facebook, Trip Advisor and Agoda, as traditional agent sales are reduced to a small proportion of their room revenue. The Accor chain, for example, saw only seven percent of its sales from travel agents, compared to 25 percent from online sales and 40 percent from bookings made directly with the hotel.
Consumers are buying smarter and it’s not only because of the capabilities of smarter devices. They research using different sources and across different mediums, then seek out the best discounts before parting with their money. Is your brand one that survives the multiple hoops it has to jump through or are you still appealing based on aspirations? In an era where consumers buy only after they’ve done their homework, does your brand fit into the smart consumption pattern or does it get filtered out when they search based on practical variables? New tools such as Facebook’s Graph Search will continually be developed, providing shoppers more ways to research. Shops that don’t evolve will be lost in the consumer’s research process.
Is it then about providing the best value for your customers? Unfortunately, no. You can deliver a “best value” product that gives consumers more of the product at a lower price, but that will not guarantee your survival when the next brand touting a cheaper alternative comes along.
Instead of trying to provide Best Value, elevate your brand to deliver Smart Value. Here are three ways to do so:
1. Provide a smart shopping experience
Lack of personal time is a common grouse. A brand can slot themselves into a customer’s life simply by reducing their choices in a smart manner. For fast-paced consumer goods, help the consumer think of what they need before they know it.
StyleMint retails clothes online and puts new shoppers through an initial survey to determine their style. New arrivals are sorted into a showroom of suggested outfits for the shopper’s home screen. The data driving the showroom is updated whenever the shopper clicks on an item, searches for something or eventually purchases an item.
2. Create an efficient shopping process
Fitting into the consumer’s lifestyle habits secures a place for your brand. One of the best ways to do it is to identify areas where you can create convenience for consumers. Drugstore.com may not be the cheapest option to get vitamins and supplements, but it allows shoppers to subscribe to these products with a definite usage schedule.
Photo-printing labs that have served consumers by producing good quality prints were closing shop one after the other, as consumers chose to share digital photos rather than print their images. In a sunset industry, Fotohub developed Foto Ideas, allowing users to express themselves in different ways and providing gift ideas in an efficient manner.
3. Have the shopping experience enrich their lives with meaning
The educated shopper may compare the dollars and cents, but they also seek an enriching shopping experience that makes them feel that it is more than a transaction or just part of an endless cycle of consumption. Serving your customers with a cause that they can easily support adds another reason for them to switch to your brand if the products are comparable.
In Chile, the Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa gives each of its guests a trackable virtual tree seed. Every guest chooses where in the protected area they would like to plant their tree and can later track its growth. Using a simple system, each guest feels like they have contributed to the sustainability of the hotel operations.
The knowledge generation is here. Brands must seek to deliver smart value, so people can feel good about the smart choices they have made.
Christina is a Senior Strategy Consultant at Consulus and has consulted several Asian companies in diverse industries such as retail, telecommunications and banking. Her work with these companies involved strategic research, marketing framework, processes and communication strategy, internal cultural development and people development.