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Listening to customers is crucial, but being led by them is detrimental

Consumers are at the heart of every decision we make.’ This is a common sentiment we often hear from brands, one that serves them well. However, this consumer-centric approach can be confused with a consumer-led approach. Being consumer-led can result in brands becoming generic, bland and forgettable.

Today we have never been more connected, yet this globalisation has also led to a flattening of consumer tastes. Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook have all led to an overall aesthetic standard. Our eyes frequent the same posts, pages, videos and designs leading to homogeneity. This is a problem for brands, especially for those that adopt literal direction from consumers in research.

A successful brand is clearly different from its competitors. It stands out and stands apart. When a consumer cannot identify any meaningful difference in that brand, then they’re in trouble. Though following verbatim what the consumer says feels like the ‘safe bet’ in the short term, in the long run the brand value is at stake. Symbolism and brand equity, which can take years, or decades to build, can be diluted. The irony of the long-term impact of this dilution is a weakening in the consumers’ recognition, resonance and awareness of the brand.

To be clear, this does not mean brands should stop listening to consumers. On the contrary, consumers can enlighten brands on what they expect from them, how they engage or shop their brand. But to amend visual direction to accommodate specific and subjective feedback from a consumer in research often does not translate to expected purchase intent and this leads to a disappointing result once those anticipated sales are not achieved after launch.

There are so many options, so many brands, so many channels, so many influencers, so many means…and yet everything is starting to look the same. A brand that expresses vision and character is one that is novel with conviction and this cannot be achieved while being exclusively consumer-led.

Listening to consumers must still leave space for the brand to be original. For originality is disruptive, not accommodating and leads to break through ideas not bland brands.

By Diana Yako, client services director at Our Revolution
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