Branding in a Selfie Nation

Consumers Demand Hyper-Personalized Experiences

Nothing can make a somewhat hip parent feel old like an afternoon of hanging out with a pack of 11-year-olds. You enter their world and it's a swirl of synthesized music, pounding beats, bright colors and styles, and even a stylized lingo that only they seem to fully understand.

These kids are a regular cyclone of sounds and snacks, eating and singing their way across what you once considered a tranquil home, but now appears as a colonized tween nation. Then in a split-second, they've moved off to the seclusion of bedrooms and rec rooms, sanctuaries away from “uncool” parents, leaving you sitting there dazed. Wait, what just happened? Confusing? Yes, and maybe even a little ear-splitting – but these kids can deliver a priceless branding lesson.

Revealing a much purer engagement with brands and products, our wild pack of tweens provides clues about what consumers really desire. With the popularity of Instagram and Minecraft, today's selfie-driven tween mindset shows an engagement with brands that offer unique customization features catering to their impulsive need for emotional self-expression — making their brand experience highly personalized.

The evolution of a selfie nation.

There’s no doubt that selfies have become part of our mainstream culture, no longer exclusive to tweens and teens, but adults alike. Though some may see it as a sad commentary on today’s self-obsessed culture – a la Kim Kardashian – the selfie craze does not seem to be dying down. Instead, there seems to be an increasing impulse to capture “real” moments on a smartphone in order to provide validation of the user’s experience. Rather than shaking your head in judgment when you see a group of tweens capturing their “perfect” selfie, smart marketers see this selfie epidemic as a shift in brand expectations by consumers across the board.

In 2013, the Oxford dictionary made “selfie” the word of the year and now more than a million selfies are taken each day according to research by Techinfographics.com. The popularity has even created its own thriving industry of editing apps, selfie sticks, and countless books/articles on how to take the “perfect” selfie. This booming industry is catering to the desire for the user to have complete control of the end product, creating a visual form of self-expression. Once out in the world, the image is free game, expected to take on new meaning as friends and family members engage in shares, likes, and comments.

Marketing beyond customization to a personalized approach.

Moving away from a shotgun method and anticipating the needs of consumers, brands have a greater chance of competing in today’s digital market where price comparisons can easily commoditize a product or service.

Marketers are reacting to a consumer’s demands for products, goods, and services that are tailored to their specific needs at the moment they specify. According to a survey of 2,000 consumers by Accenture, 73% prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their shopping experience more relevant.

With a shift in consumer expectations, brands are investing accordingly. Netflix now invests $150 million annually in its recommendation systems. Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt, explained at a conference for recommender systems that the average user only looks at the Netflix app for one or two minutes before making a decision or giving up entirely, leaving the app a very limited window for engagement. Personalization is key for brands to reach a user in that abbreviated time frame. In Netflix’s case, the brand is working to ensure the first thing a viewer sees has a strong chance of matching their past interests, thereby keeping them from switching over to competitors such as Amazon Video.

It’s no surprise that innovative companies such as Netflix are reacting to the general desire for personalization, but even more, traditional brands are anticipating the new trend in consumer demands. Nestlé, which has been around for over 150 years, is building Nestlé’s Personal Consumer Experience. The division is dedicated to leveraging data to deliver more relevant and personal experiences to consumers across the buying journey. Pete Blackshaw, Global Head of Digital for Nestlé, explains the reason for Nestlé’s commitment to personalization saying, “the way we experience brands has changed forever; mobile devices know where we are and what we’re doing, web-content is targeted and personal. More personal experience for the consumer is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Marketing to a selfie nation.

What the selfie industry reveals to marketers is a consumer’s deep commitment to hyper-personalization. Pre-teens, just like the rest of us, are becoming more demanding. The new brand challenge: how do we hand over so much control to consumers and other stakeholders when we have spent our time working toward the organization’s mission and objectives? This movement flies in the face of tradition, which dictates that marketers manage the brand and messaging, not the consumer.

Just as a selfie represents an individual’s visual voice, a brand should be communicating its own voice to best connect with the audience. Questions marketers should ask themselves include:

  • How are you able to humanize your brand to resonate with your targeted audience?
  • Are you informative?
  • Are you funny, quirky and interesting?
  • Why do people care about your brand?

As with the careful crafting of a selfie, once the brand’s voice is authentically defined, then the targeted consumer will emotionally connect and share its message.

Returning to our 11-year olds, what we want to do in branding is provide a level of joy similar to what we see in kids when they engage with one another in a completely authentic and personalized manner. So, while we wait for a peaceful moment’s quiet after the ever-present Teen Disney sitcom laugh track has been clicked off, we find true insight from observing the emotional commitment these kids feel with their favorite brands. It’s joy, and it’s what we should all strive for in our branding campaigns.

The only way to achieve that level of truth is by anticipating the customer’s needs, and then delivering a personalized, customized interaction that feels like collaboration, not manipulation.

Should you wish to learn more about mapping out your specific buyer personas, click here.

At Matter Creative Group, we’ve ingrained these branding principles into everything we do to help our clients – from strategy to implementation. Whether we’re crafting a new brand identity for a start-up manufacturer, or sales support materials for a global high-tech leader, our goal is to provide creative that evokes emotional connections with each of our client's targeted audiences. We offer the flexibility to serve as either your agency of record or to work with you on a project-by-project basis.

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