Perception may or may not be a reality, but perception, is, for an individual, the ultimate reality. Or something along those lines was what was the mantra that drove marketing not so long back in the past. While the theory is to a large extent correct, there is a new reality today that marketers would themselves have to grapple with. A reality that perceptions that are not authentic will not stand the test of time for too long. And here’s why this new reality will be all the more entrenched in the coming future, once the world weathers ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
COVID-19: The great leveller
While the pandemic has been touted to be a great leveler in many aspects; between rich and poor, between humans and the rest of nature, and so on, it has also been a leveler for brands. There are several reasons for this. The scarcity of goods means the line between brands and non-brands has greatly blurred, and products are being seen for what they are – products. And consumers of such products have been granted a long lockdown to evaluate those products purely on their utilitarian value. Also, because a lot of products are unavailable currently due to restricted commercial activity, consumers would use the time to plan for their purchases in the future. After a considerable amount of due diligence that is. And hence –
Reviews Matter More than Ever
The more stringent due diligence of products to be bought once the lockdown ends means consumers will assess past user reviews for more than now. In the era of e-commerce, where users get to share their experiences with each other over centralized platforms, such reviews are bound to have a lot of impacts when it comes to deciding how the shopping carts of customers are going to look like in future. This can be confirmed through a Fan and Fuel survey, which states that 97% of buyers factor in consumer reviews before making purchase decisions. Which means –
False perceptions will not stick
Remember those fairness cream advertisements that were commonplace in countries where the majority of people belonged to non-Caucasian races? Ones which suggested that you could be the next movie star, or could charm your crush by using the cream for a few months? Yes, products that go on to make such misleading suggestions are set to lose their prominence in the coming future. It is not surprising that substitute products that help people embrace the reality of their skin color and promise to help them have healthier skin are being hailed as more genuine and trustworthy. An example of this is the positive reception that Pretty 24, a beauty cream by Vini Cosmetics has seen, prompting even the likes of HUL to alter their strategy of marketing beauty soaps. The false perceptions that have been built over years of psycho-analysis based marketing will not fade away immediately, but brands can surely no longer expect to have a false halo around their name like in the past. However,
Creative Exaggerations will not be punished by the Market
This is especially when it comes to advertisements – the wackier and the more hyperbole-laced advertisements will continue to have more impact. In fact, to a large extent, the essence of advertising does lie in exaggeration. However, as concluded in the research paper titled Processing Exaggerated Advertising Claims by Elizabeth Cowley, what advertising hyperbole cannot continue to do is to fool the customer into glossing over the ineffectiveness of the products they are selling. This especially holds true today, since the customer is spoilt for choices, and when there are multiple options to choose from –
Experiences will form the basis of future sales
Customers tend to stay loyal to those brands which have delivered products that fulfill the function that they promise to serve. This fact is reflected in the conclusion of the research paper titled Customer Loyalty, Repurchase, and Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytical Review which states that satisfaction is positively linked to repurchase intention, and also loyalty itself is positively linked to repurchase and satisfaction. This fact has major business implications since acquiring a new customer could be 5X more costly than retaining an existing one and an increase in customer retention rate by 5% can increase profits anywhere between 25-95%.
This is why marketing strategies need to evolve to promote the authenticity of the brand more than anything else. It is no surprise then, that experiential marketing, which is demonstrably more effective than advertisements, is attracting an increasing share of the pie of marketing budgets. Therefore, a brand manager would be well advised to devise future marketing strategies with a greater focus on involving the consumer and generating trials.
The COVID-19 crisis that has necessitated lockdowns in most major economies of the world has given enterprises a clean slate, a reboot. How they choose to chart their course once the end of the lockdown will decide how successful they will be. But the coming future is certainly one where tactful honesty would be the best marketing policy.