The customer is the brand. ‘Me’ is the new paradigm of marketing.

The customer is the brand. ‘Me’ is the new paradigm of marketing.

Originally published in the June 26th issue of Marketing Magnified, the journal the CMO Council

Consumers are much wealthier today, if measured by how much they consume, the stuff they own and the choices they have. Mass production, free markets, global supply chains, easy credit, access to information, the internet and the growth of e-commerce have democratized products and services by making them even more affordable and accessible. This has pushed the masses up Maslow’s pyramid, not just in the developed world, but arguably in the developing world too. The customer has become the brand!

Abraham Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated by physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs. When one need is fulfilled, a person seeks to fulfil the next one, and so on. He also noted that only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualized because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs. That was true before social media, and the access and excess afforded by this century, but not anymore.  Another likely factor is the rise in the incidence of narcissism amongst Millennials as discovered by Dr. Twenge and Dr. Campbell in their study of self-esteem and narcissism for their book titled ‘The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.’ [i]

Now it appears that consumers are skipping Maslow’s basic hierarchies wanting to feel and be seen as self-actualized individuals, and it is not just the Millennials! Some are driven by a realistic sense of self-worth based on their own individual achievement and others by some level of narcissism. People are seeking instant gratification, not waiting to be recognized, they are making the world recognize them by carefully shaping their own brand.

Overwhelmingly, they want their own personal brand to be meaningful and different from the other 7 billion people on the planet – including the 1.5 billion that are measuring up against others on social and professional networks online. They all have different values, and they want these values reflected. The most valuable brand for them is their own.

I call this cultural shift the “Me Paradigm.”  It is no longer just about your brand, it is about “me” the consumer.

The customer is a brand onto themselves.

This has significant implications on how marketers, in general, think about their brand and interact with their consumers. It requires a shift in thinking from their brand being unique to their consumer being unique.

The “Me Paradigm” theory is based on recognizing some key realities.

  1. Every customer is a brand and wants to further his brand.
  2. Every customer is a segment on his own and has specific requirements.
  3. Every customer is in a different market at different times and places — multiple markets reside within each individual.
  4. Every customer has a voice in the internet democracy and wants to be heard.
  5. Every customer wants to be perceived and treated as special.

While this is a daunting list of requirements to consider in marketing to the masses efficiently and profitably, innovative marketers have employed this thinking with great success. They have achieved growth by personalizing consumer experience or customizing product, packaging and pricing.  If you thought that only niche, high-value, big-ticket or premium brands could be personalized and customized, you would be wrong.

During the summer of 2013, Coca-Cola the world’s largest beverage company rolled out its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign in 70 countries. The genius of this idea was that Coke simply pre-customized its packaging by replacing their usual branding with a few hundred of the most popular names like John, Ashley and Ryan. Names were carefully selected in each country so that at least 40% of a country’s population could find their own name or that of someone they knew on a Coke.

According to Lucie Austin, Coke’s marketing director, the campaign capitalized on the global trend of self-expression and sharing, allowing consumers to express themselves through a bottle of Coke, and to share the experience with someone else.

Did it work? You bet it did. Before taking it global, Coke tested the campaign in Australia in 2011, selling 250 million named bottles and cans to 23 million Australians – That’s over 10 personalized units per person! Globally, it grew volume by 2% in a category that has been in a consistent decline for 11 years.

The British Airways (BA) Home Advantage TV and an interactive internet commercial were created to mark BA’s sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics.  The original TV ad showed BA’s jumbo jet driving (not flying) past iconic parts of London and then dropping off passengers to the Olympic stadium.

The interactive version of the ad allowed viewers to create a personalized version of the ad by inputting their London address to take BA’s Jumbo Jet manoeuvring past their home. If you have a London street address or postal code you can still test-drive the interactive BA ad here.

Within weeks the interactive version of the BA ad had gone viral with thousands of shares and over a million views on YouTube. According to the Sunday Express [ii] it was considered to be “one of the most successful ever interactive social media advertising campaigns.”

Another example is that of the soon to launch Atom Bank, the next generation virtual-only (mobile) bank. In a bid to provide a highly personalized customer experience, the bank created 1.4 million logos. Customers can not only choose a personalized logo and colour palette to drive their visual experience when using the app, they can also call the bank what they want, such as Robert’s bank or Sally’s bank. Atom Bank’s CMO, Lisa Wood told Marketing Week that personalization has been a dominant theme throughout the entire process. “It’s a way of showing that we believe every one of our customers is unique. No one should have exactly the same experience at Atom,” she said.[iii]

The marketing paradigm has changed from mass marketing to mass customization and now is moving towards individualized customization and super personalization. The new paradigm of marketing is the “ME paradigm.” Marketers embracing the reality that their customer is the brand will have the edge.

[i] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/young-people-today-are-more-narcissistic-than-ever/5457236

[ii] http://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/330956/Interactive-British-Airways-advert-goes-viral

[iii] https://www.marketingweek.com/2016/01/06/atom-bank-creates-1-4-million-logos-in-bid-to-prove-customer-obsession/