For marketers, the future doesn’t lie in better retargeting. To truly change the game, marketers must understand the needs and aspirations of their customers. The question to ask isn’t “What can I sell this person?” It’s “What does this person want?” That question unlocks so much more. For instance, maybe someone wants to be a better parent or feel a sense of security.
When we focus on delivering meaningful information and experiences, it’s possible to get more creative about the type of solutions that can meet people’s needs. In a recent study, we found that people are actually open to ads that dig a bit deeper. We also found that people are quick to spot the difference between gimmicky ad personalization and something that’s legitimately personal.
The future of marketing is in fulfilling both functional and emotional needs. We must go beyond demographics or psychographics — even marketing to explicit need states — to embrace a more holistic view. That will enable us to deliver a meaningful message at just the right time and through the right channel. And advances in automation make it all possible.
To see how automation can make connections with people and why it works, we recently conducted a research series called Rethinking Readiness. We sought to understand the types of benefits people seek from brands, where in the journey they need those benefits, and how ads can deliver on those needs in meaningful ways.
Addressing needs is good for business
Our research makes it clear that addressing human needs is good for business. We imitated elements of automation to tailor advertising content to stated and inferred user needs. That drove up to 15% higher purchase intent and up to 30% higher clickthrough above and beyond ads with standard personalization.1
This doesn’t mean that every second of every ad has to be crammed with meaning. Imagine messaging from a credit card company that offers basic financial features and the card type ideally suited to the person seeing it. When ads had just a few components of meaningfulness, we saw double-digit increases in purchase intent (up to 12% higher) and click-through rates (up to 25% higher).2 This was especially true when someone saw an ad from a brand that wasn’t already a preferred brand. These ads worked because they were personal, not personalized.
We also explored past purchases and different touchpoints, and we asked people exactly when in the purchase journey they were looking for a more personal outreach from a brand. We learned that people want evolving types of support, depending on the type of product they’re shopping for and how close they are to making a purchase.
When looking at purchase journeys for essentials, such as shampoo or dog food, people follow consistent needs patterns. We call them “impact territories” — the ways people want brands to impact their lives, not just their purchases, during the journey. Prior to making a purchase, people are looking for guidance about what to buy, tools they need to succeed, and help smoothing the path to purchase. When making a purchase people expect brands to lighten the mood and make the purchase fun or uplifting. And after a purchase, people want the brand to continue removing barriers (such as for reordering), help them stand out, and open their eyes to ongoing or new uses.
What consumers want
Embrace personal, not personalized
To deliver a more personal experience, brands must first build relationships. And those relationships will determine a brand’s ability to have a meaningful impact, generating growth and long-term value.
First and foremost, know your consumer. Clearly understand your relationship with the recipient — the roles you play and the investment you have in one another. How well do you know them? What is the category relationship? From there you can more easily identify the opportunity. Recognize that the recipient has, or may have, a specific need at a given moment. Are they actively looking for something? What is their need? Automation can help you achieve this at scale by looking at the context of a search and finding patterns that might not otherwise be obvious to manual keyword bidding and similar strategies.
I know what you’re thinking at this point. This is all great — and maybe a bit creepy. For those worried that a more personal approach could be seen as intrusive, it’s important to understand what your brand has permission to do throughout the relationship. It’s critical to assess the information you have about the recipient, whether given directly or indirectly (think first-party data versus third-party data you may purchase), and determine what you’re able to use and when a consumer would be most receptive. People form relationships with brands in the same step-by-step fashion they form them with people.
While every ad campaign will have some detractors, ads that were highly personal in our tests triggered very little negative reaction. Even when we tried to simulate overly intrusive ads by combining all the personal information a study participant gave us, fewer than 3%, on average, were annoyed.3 Our takeaway? When ads are genuinely helpful, the potential for backlash is low.
4 steps to building a relationship
A framework for response, recovery, and beyond
This year has seen major disruptions in business around the globe. People’s needs and behaviors have shifted. For example, our data shows that 32% of people in the U.S. (and between 21% and 60% globally) have shopped with a new retailer since the onset of COVID-19.4
It’s more important than ever to understand those shifts and the underlying needs informing them. If brands better understand what is meaningful to people, it’s possible to leverage those insights, pair them with automation, and quickly identify and satisfy dynamic consumer needs. An approach to marketing guided by this deep level of helpfulness will set up marketers for business success, regardless of what the coming year brings.