The last two decades have seen dramatic changes in the way that companies interact with consumers, with firstly the internet and latterly the proliferation of mobile devices exponentially increasing our ‘connected-ness’.
The challenge to interact effectively via these multiple channels is not only big, but also necessary – for it’s clear that consumers are more likely to come into a brand’s physical store if their online experience has been positive; and that positive reviews across sites, like word-of-mouth recommendations, are heavily prized.
Yet as companies can pat themselves on the back for rising to the challenge, another phenomenon is becoming clearer: with face-to-face communication increasingly simply another mode of interaction, the characteristics, preferences and habits of individual consumers are becoming multiple – and therefore ever more difficult to define.
Alice Blackwood wrote in Frame magazine [‘Selves’, Frame 104]: “In the 21st Century we exist as multipresent individuals, drawing on our many qualities to optimize the lives we reveal to our audiences of friends and professional associates. Where we once felt real and authentic in person, the digital sphere now allows us to build a sense of authenticity around certain of our character traits.”
But does this really represent a challenge for retailers and service providers? After all, throughout history the majority of consumer interaction with companies, with brands, has been conducted in a different manner, on a different level, to that of genuine friendships. And even an ardent buyer of products on, say, Amazon will ‘reveal’ only certain facets of their ‘personality’ through their purchases and reviews – able to be selective about what they share, both with the retailer and with the wider world.
Irrespective of how much data is collected, how many surveys are completed and how many ‘experiences’ are shared, we must be careful of making assumptions – for the Joe Bloggs we think we know may in fact be only one facet of Joe Bloggs. As Blackwood states: “One thing is certain: today’s consumer is in control. They are the dictators of behaviour and the indicators of what is appropriate.”
At least one challenge for organisations, therefore, remains much the same as before: to build advocacy they must ascertain what a customer’s or potential customer’s particular needs and desires are at a given moment in time, and meet or exceed them, in ways that are as rewarding and memorable as possible. After all, multiple consumer personalities mean that the next recommendation from Joe Bloggs may well be made to…Joe Bloggs.