“Stop Lying, Mate” - Aussie Consumers Have Had Enough

A quite brutal poll — and what it means for local brands

So, get this. Three in four Australian consumers reckon that brands outright lie to them in marketing communications. Lie to them.

Kapow! Bam! Whacko! Smack! Boomfa!

But before we turn this into a 1960s re-run of Adam West’s Batman (look it up), let’s just all acknowledge: this is one heck of a zinger to local brands.

That headline statistic from a late 2020 customer loyalty survey commissioned by the agency, Customology, was among many that ultimately found, that the majority of Aussies lack any kind of trust in brand communications.

Ain’t that a slap in the face to all that branded virtue-signaling that’s been filling up your social feeds.

According to the survey, 82% of all consumers would actively consider another brand to the one they currently use. Now, if that isn’t an epic failing of customer engagement by Australian companies, show me what is. But there will be upside lessons for all.

Let’s dig a little deeper.


Taking the Rubbish Out

First, it’s often tempting to dismiss survey-based research, especially when the findings are as challenging as this one. Leading questions can certainly derive target answers. A little skepticism is healthy.

For example, this research reports that:

  • 63 percent want to be rewarded for their referrals

But if you ask people if they like to be rewarded for a referral, what were they supposed to say? It’s only surprising that the number was a low as 63%, though given how we have trained consumers, I expect the rest saw the likely implication that they would be spammed with more emails if they said yes.

So okay, let's park that finding. It’s pretty benign anyway. But the rest? Well, there’s some good meat. Read on.


They’re Lying to You

That’s what this research suggests the majority of Australian consumers think, which to be fair, mirrors trends in other findings from around the world. And there are two very simple reasons why.

First, the collapse of institutional trust is a phenomenon the world over and has been accelerating. And second, despite this, many brands remain addicted to advertising and trigger happy messaging.

Sure, it gets dressed up now as “personalization”, surely the most ironic term to ever grace business. After all, it serves only one master, and it’s not the person.

This destroys trust.

When customers are valued solely for clicks, impressions, walk-ups, and transactions, they sense the inherent lack of safety, and the offending brand is consigned to untrustworthy status, irrespective of content.

You can read about the neuroscience of brand trust here, but as this research shows, people will just assume the brand is lying. For instance, only one in 10 consumers believe online reviews are genuine. They suspect that it's often rigged. (Pssst. Are they wrong?)

Now, by contrast, fostering a mutually beneficial exchange of value, over the long term has by definition, the hallmarks of human relationship. But that sounds more difficult, eh?

Well, it’s more nuanced than old-school acquisition, but frankly, it’s really not that hard. So I’ve included 3 must-do’s which I’ll come to shortly.

Yet many are conditioned to seeing customers as little more than a cash machine and struggle to think in any other way. Their worldview just won’t allow it. You can read more about world views here.

Customers though, don’t suffer the same limitation.

61 percent said they thought the marketing was “too pushy”, more than half consider re-marketing too frequent, and 48 percent think they get emailed way too often.

Are you picking it up, what society is laying it down?

They are telling us that if a brand is constantly messaging, cross-selling, hitting them with offers, nagging away to sign-up, to subscribe, to hit that promotions button et al; then they don’t think that the brand actually values them.

Because it acts like it doesn’t.

40 percent reported hardly ever reading communications and 49 percent said those communications had no influence on their purchase behavior. And those numbers are growing

Think about that.


You Should Run Campaigns

Now, many opponents of “relational marketing” (the fact we needed this category of marketing should tell us straight away that we haven’t been very relational), will often say, but we can never abandon campaigns!

And they’re totes right. It’s not mutually exclusive.

Turns out, when we run a campaign to engaged customers because we first chose to be, well, engaging, conversion rates soar.

In fact, because you get better results, in theory, you won’t have to run as many, thus saving money. In turn, this enables more investment on a connected creative, and therefore better, more memorable campaigns.

The upsides for those running campaigns, within brands that know how to engage, are circular and many.

So the issue isn’t whether to run campaigns. Instead, it is that campaigns are only ever a means to an end, and if they start to compromise that end, you need to re-think.

But today, as this research shows, we over-campaign, and we don’t connect.

That may sound confronting, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise given that high-quantity very rarely goes with high-quality and because the majority of brands don’t know their customers. They can’t.

They simply haven’t applied the thinking.

Getting grumpy with me? Here are those pesky customers again.

  • 45 percent believe brands are not targeting them in a relevant way
  • 57 percent said they’re rarely or never thanked
  • 51 percent reported that they didn’t receive any communication at all after their first purchase, “even after sharing contact details”.

Now, what's interesting about those 3 findings, is that 91 percent also report that they are regularly asked for feedback.

That underlines three things:

  1. A lot of brands are ignoring customers. Nuff said.
  2. Many brands don’t close the loop. See, if you ask someone for feedback, you have immediately created a social contract. They will expect you to act, and if you don’t, you damage your standing with that individual. Be very, very careful what you ask!
  3. Overall, the industry doesn’t understand the role of surveys in general and is using them incorrectly, which you can read about here, and so many Voice of Customer (feedback) programs actually degrade trust.

Engaging more, campaigning less, and surveying smarter, would have been a good title for this piece. Damn.



Now, I have spent a lot of my career learning about human behavior as part of growth strategy, brand development, and customer engagement. And so it was no surprise to me that 64 percent of respondents would remain loyal to a brand that doesn’t have a loyalty program.

If that doesn’t tell you, once and for all, that “loyalty” is a human condition to be designed for, not just a points program, then nothing will. Ponder that over your morning latte.

And while we’re on loyalty, ponder this too. A lot of brands are actively annoying their existing customers. We chuckle, but it’s true.

  • 77 percent believe new customers receive better incentives than the existing ones
  • 55 percent don’t believe they are rewarded for their loyalty at all

Now, that’s a bizarre trend given how expensive it is to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one, and yet another challenge to the wider marketing profession, that it’s time, frankly, to finally care about the actual economics, instead of vanity metrics.

And that takes us back to worldviews… you really should read that piece I shamefully plugged above.


Behaviors. Decisions. One-ness.

Okay, so the research is clear. It was always going to be because after all, it hasn’t said anything we didn’t already know, right?

Sure, some will stay comfortable in their zombie-march to campaign city. They may even take home bonuses as they kill customer trust. Those days are not yet over.

But I know, because I spend time with them, that there’s plenty who want more for their profession and their career, and they might argue that there just hasn’t been any real guidance on what to do instead.

So in support of those progressive souls, these are those 3 must-do’s that I promised earlier.

1 — Become Behavioral Based

This is crucial. But many marketers have real trouble making this leap, because it means stepping back from using ‘segments’ and ‘push’ all the time, an industry sacred cow, to also thinking about ‘individuals’ and ‘conversations’.

And further, it means challenging the ingrained practice of journey mapping and journey dictation. This has quite literally been impossible to execute since circa 2015 anyway, which you can read more about here. Instead, companies need to engage with customers on whatever journey they elect to create.

Now, when you do engage behaviorally, you’ll no longer need to incessantly message, because context — not content — is King.

And so: Invest into behavioral listening capability — not journey maps (nor map-based technologies!)

2 — Make Real-Time Decisions

Now that you are in the moment with your customers, the only way to respond to their behavior is to take decisions in that same moment. Duh.

There is no point in having minutes, hours, or days of latency between interactions. The conversation has stalled, the customer is likely gone, and their state of motivation dissipated. A person’s intent is always time-bound. You snooze, you lose.

And so: Invest in real-time decisioning capability.

3 — Act Like One Brand

Lastly, you can’t become behavioral-based, even if you can take decisions in the moment if you are stuck in a channel silo.

Because your customers aren’t.

They traverse all channels, digital and physical, direct and indirect, owned and un-owned, often in parallel, and in a myriad of ways using multiple devices, and subject to a plethora of external influences. Ergo, you have no control.

Zero. Nada.

And so there is no way to become behavioral-based if you're not able to operate according to a customer’s individual intent. Why? Because intent is the precursor to the psychological state of motivation.

No motivation, no engagement.

And so operating without channel boundaries, and in the customer’s context, ables brands to continue the right conversations, or cease conversations, pause conversations, or a combination; wherever the customer is, (which is now commonly on multiple channels all at once), and whenever, and wherever, they pop up next.

When you get that right, and only when you get that right, do you start to act like one brand. This is important because your customer is one human being, and they take cues from their interactions with you. So it helps if those cues are coherent. Capice?

Brands must learn to behave as one entity, not a desperate concoction of discombobulated parts.

And so: Invest in journey orchestration capability.


Moving a Profession

The maturation of marketing from its industrial-era mindset, to a behavioral one, is long overdue. And while many in the industry will argue about it, or hide behind digitization as fraudulent evidence of progress, research results like this should remind everyone of one simple fact.

Consumers just aren’t that into us.

That’s our fault, and it begs a bunch of questions like, how long will we focus on our own short-term needs at the expense of the other half of the brand/customer equation? How long will we serve vanity metrics and ignore business economics? And how long will a profession that should know an awful lot about the human condition, remain largely ignorant of the social sciences?

You know what? One thing at a time. Let’s start with the simple operationalization of core customer engagement principles. And the headline is this: Become a behavioral brand!

I can’t wait to read the research when we do.

I BEG TO DIFFER! Growth & brand theory from a top 10 global thought leader (Thinkers360). SPINLEY.CO

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