Dealing with transforming customers

2021 Fjord Trend: Collective displacement

It was visible for the most part of 2020, becoming more and more common as the year went along. At the moment, displacement seems to be with us for good. The definitions of workplace, school, shopping center and even home are not the same as one year ago. While we may feel lost at times, wondering what on Earth happened to our sense of belonging and identity there is, however, light at the end of the tunnel.

Homes turned into meeting rooms, schools, gyms and whatever kind of venue was needed to be self-organized. Things we used to do elsewhere – dining, movie watching, concerts, shopping – were forced into homes. Meeting friends and relatives became virtual. Clothing became casual, makeup nonexistent.

All of a sudden, living in a city lost a big chunk of its popularity as people escaped to the more rural areas. The increase in cabin sales and rentals took everyone by surprise, and that was only the beginning: people actually started moving to the country. Additional space and fresh air were the unique selling points for every realtor, and since work was remote anyway, connecting the dots was straightforward.

The changes in individual behavior have been dramatic, but the effects on businesses are even more fundamental. In addition to completely changed buying behavior, the customers’ exposure to marketing messages and information about products and services that are available is different.

To keep up with this development, companies have to be more alert than ever. The customer base has to be under continuous evaluation, and even the weakest signals have to be taken into account.

Brand, meet your new customer

“Brands that used to interact with customers mainly through traditional physical channels have surely found the change in customer behavior extremely difficult to cope with” says Tomas Lindberg, Design Lead at Fjord Finland. “On one hand they probably do not have a very good understanding of their customers – or at least only partial understanding – and on the other hand probably also lack the proper processes, capabilities and resources to serve them in a multichannel world.”

Photo of Tomas Lindberg.

Lindberg emphasizes that brands that have been interacting with customers using multiple channels should at least in theory have a more holistic understanding of their changed behavior. They should also possess better tools to respond to the inevitable changes.

However, it takes much more than collecting data and having a presence in different channels to really understand customers and to be able to quickly respond to changes, not to mention predict them.

“The fact that consumers have gone online for most of their needs that used to be done in person or in a specific physical location opens up for new opportunities. All of a sudden, brands have plenty of possibilities to really interact with their customers, reach them at times and in places that previously would not have been possible. The competition for time and attention is fierce, and only the ones capable of delivering true value and exceptional experiences will be awarded with the loyalty of their customers.”

The time has come to look at the big picture

To start the journey to get there, brands need to invest in building and nurturing a corporate culture that looks at the market and the people in it holistically, encourages experimentation and fosters learning and sharing. The ones looking at historical data to predict the future and create strategies based on looking at the rear-view mirror will surely be in trouble.

In addition, Tomas Lindberg states that the customers, as we used to know them, will never be back.

“Everything we used to know has changed fundamentally. All of us have become used to new ways of doing things, being more flexible in when and where we work, learn and take time to relax. Even large corporations have acknowledged that remote work is here to stay, which will have a significant impact on where the talent of the future is found, where they choose to live and so on.”

Implications of this will only emerge with time and brands who can respond to this will again come out stronger since they will be able to attract the best talent, which in turn will give them a further edge over competition.

People are, however, social beings. We need to interact with each other, feel like we belong and have a purpose. Online media and remote events will not provide these opportunities to the same level as physical experiences and the shared memories and emotions they create. We will see the normalization of society through social events such as concerts, theatre and dining out. The experiences will naturally be planned to minimize risk and we will see them incorporate hands-off solutions where people use their own devices to e.g., order food and tailor experiences to meet their needs. Again, brands responsive to this change will be strong in the future.

Tomas Lindberg concludes that there are, after all, ways for companies to make collective displacement actually work for their advantage.

“As mentioned earlier, collective displacement and the move to truly omnichannel services will provide huge opportunities for brands to interact with their customers on a much more intimate level. This requires building of trust, brands must acknowledge the customers’ right to privacy and treat the data they collect with the greatest of respect.”

It all starts with understanding customers on an individual level, so that brands can begin to provide real value in exchange for customers letting them into their lives on more levels than was ever possible before.

 

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