Digital transformation is forcing the hand of businesses everywhere. Adapt or die seems to be most modern companies’ mantra in today’s cutthroat world. If they aren’t proactive at responding to changing technologies, social behaviors and the ingenious marketing campaigns of the competition, they’ll end up in the recycling bin.
In the age of digital transformation, consumers are inundated with brand messaging, and buying behavior has changed. Millennials, in particular, like to take a more active role in the purchasing cycle. In a 2016 survey by Deloitte, 66 percent of participants cited their desire for a self-directed journey (compared to just 30 percent two years before).
And that number is on the rise.
Consumers no longer want constant advertisements pushed on them and are disinterested in the traditional brand-approved narratives. Modern shoppers are independent. They conduct their own research, read online reviews, and maybe even check out the ethics of the companies they do business with.
Social responsibility is the name of the game, with 73 percent of millennials willing to pay more for a sustainable product. Not only do companies need to shift with the times and source their supplies and resources sustainably, but they need to change the way they communicate with their audience as well.
“Niche is the new mass market,” says director Justin Ching, one of the producers behind Amazon’s hit series Ritualand the owner of j-school Productions. “Gone are the days when you can appeal to everyone with your messaging, because of audience fragmentation.”
A narrow, boardroom-approved style of messaging hits today’s audience as inauthentic or out of touch. New consumers see everything, from online critiques to behind-the-scenes customer interactions publicized on Twitter.
In this shifting panorama, how can advertisers keep up? Here are some interesting ways social responsibility is impacting creative in the age of digital transformation.
Omnichannel marketing provides consumers with the freedom to define their own journeys. As they switch from their desktop to their mobile and from their television set to an in-store catalog, the message should be consistent throughout. So, rather than an incessant outpouring of random commercials, advertisers should take a gentler, synchronized approach.
Consumers should be presented with a mix of advice, incentives, interesting content and offers congruent with their preferences. Advertising should be tailored through push notifications and geofencing to market to an audience of one, in a personalized, consistent and relevant way on all channels.
An excellent example of omnichannel marketing is the Starbucks reward card. Consumers can reload their cards via their smartphones, on the website, in-store or via an app—and it’s instantly replicated across all channels. Consumers standing in line can top-up their card and have the new balance register on the system before they reach the checkout.
A focus on sustainability
With the millennial demographic demonstrably in favor of sustainability, brands that respect the planet are coming out on top.
“As we see it, sustainability means taking responsibility for your impact on the environment and the well-being of those around you,” says T.J. Mulqueen, sustainability advocate and engineer for McKinstry Essention, an energy services company with a focus on responsible energy use. “Brands that are honest about the effect their products and services have on the environment are better received by people who value sustainability.”
Take Patagonia’s creative campaign, “Don’t buy this jacket.” This infamous campaign, intended to highlight the negative effects of consumerism on the environment, was not without its risks.
A clothing brand telling consumers not to buy new clothes might seem counter-intuitive for their brand. However, Patagonia made their values clear through this campaign and built up a loyal fan base that will purchase with them for life—not just for one jacket.
Changing the narrative
BDG Beauty is another brand overtly challenging the traditional narrative. Founded by Bianca de la Garza, a TV host and former journalist, its mission is to re-write the script young girls have been raised to believe. Supported by messaging that de la Garza produces with her production company, BDG’s approach empowers women not to cover up and instead to enhance their inner beauty.
Through her recent IN LOVE magazine feature to mark the launch of her debut product, In GLO We Trust, she successfully catalyzes a discussion about unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards for women.
In one image, for example, de la Garza is smoking a syringe—her own provocative commentary on society’s unhealthy addiction to painful, expensive chemical procedures like Botox. In another image, she’s posing next to a pineapple donning a face mask.
“The fruit wearing a mask to me demonstrates how we would never think to change that bumpy skin on a pineapple because that’s how nature intended it. Well, what about us? We should be embracing our skin, our looks, in our own natural state as we were also designed,” de la Garza says.
Advertisers and their brands can navigate this brave new world of digital transformation. But they must throw their traditional playbook out the window. Consumer habits are changing, and brands that respond correctly can meet them at every stage of the journey.
A focus on sustainability and transparent values, a synergy across all channels, and edgy, counterculture messages are just some of the ways creative is changing. The next wave of advertising is raw, honest and provoking reactions from digitally-saturated consumers. Are you ready?
This article first appeared in Adweek.