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How Brands are thinking by Carat's Anne McCreary

Anne McCreary CaratAnne McCreary is digital strategy director at Carat where she is developing data-led campaigns and social business models for leading clients. Anne was Part of the team responsible for the recent Bodyform Responds: The Truth video that has had over 3.1 million impressions on YouTube.

Anne is speaking at our next event: AOP Research Forum: Meeting the challenge of changing consumer behaviour on 14 November.

In an era of real-time communication what are the key steps for a brand to maximise its relevance to its audience?
  1. Learn to use a # tag.  # tags have plugged Social in to the fabric of our society and made it possible for anyone to join the conversation.
  2. Shift from a ‘broadcast model’ to a ‘conversation model and start to engage your audience.  
  3. Re-evaluate access to your products and services.  Emerging social and digital technologies has changed the way we access products and services.
  4. Provide the opportunity and tools for fans and customers to connect and share - allow them to create relevance for your brand  
  5. Listen & Learn - start using real-time analytics to tap in to online conversations. Learn what topics delight or enrage your audiences, and create a feedback loop to key stakeholders within your business .Responding to the personal needs of your customers will be the difference between remain relevant or not

How have consumer’s expectations of communication with brands changed? And do you think consumers feel more or less empowered?

There is now an expectation of immediacy - 24/7 x 365 = always on.  In a culture of immediacy brand response times become critical in satisfaction levels. If we speak to a brand on Twitter we now expect a response almost immediately.
Consumers definitely feel more empowered in their interactions with brands and companies, and there are a couple of reasons for this.  The first has to do with the increasing importance of independent regulators, who are forcing different industries to treat customers fairly and transparently.  The second is the ability of mobile communications to allow consumers to interact with brands to complain and get help through CRM systems.
The fear of negative sentiment and the escalation of an individual’s issue into a spontaneous viral event is forcing companies to become more customer centric.  
Once you have written a set of values against a brand it is very difficult to rewrite those values for a generation.  Consumers can be pretty unforgiving.  This is why improving services and customer relationship building is now a core activity for marketing and senior decision-makers.  The rise of iReporting – on the spot reporting and uploading content to social channels - is also becoming a key tool for consumers in holding companies and governing bodies to account.

Bodyform Responds: The Truth Youtube VideoBodyform Responds: The Truth Youtube Video
What are the hidden dangers in real-time communication for brands?

Propagation. The speed with which stories or events can propagate is the biggest danger for brands
The second most important consideration is the ‘transferal of ownership’ – once you release a story it no longer belongs to you but quickly falls under the ‘ownership’ of others – i.e. bloggers, influencers, curators etc.  At Carat we are beginning to develop strategies borrowed from war game play to ensure readiness in brand and campaign launches.
For brands it’s just the same as people, except you are creating a personality and a set of values that need to remain consistent, and is delivered consistently at all times.  This is key if brands are to avoid seeming sycophantic – nice one minute and nasty the next.

Has the influence of traditional media on brand communications been reduced by real time communication?

A fragmented media landscape and shifting consumption patterns is affecting different media channels in different ways.  
TV has seen an increase in viewing figures overall but fragmented viewing habits. Also, people are more focused on personal interaction - social media and ‘discovery’ activity.
People are reading less and shifting to video consumption. There is an abundance of choice and audiences can now pick content that is targeted at them.  This is important for brand positioning and seeding stories in to the wider digital world.
Brands still need to target audiences but they are just becoming more sophisticated in their targeting.  Going forward, brands will be in a position to target at an individual level and be focus on converting potential customers based on personal data. People still want interesting content and brands still need to target audiences in the context of their daily lives and lifestyle interests.

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