5 ways brands are deepening connections with customers

September 09, 2021

Today’s customers are seeking more from brands, and they’re using their purchasing power to prove the point. According to Salesforce, 71% of consumers pay more attention to companies’ values than they did one year ago, and 61% have stopped buying from a company whose values didn’t align with theirs.1

As such, brands are seeking to connect with customers on a deeper, more emotional level by showing—not just telling—their values in all parts of their businesses. Creative thinkers and brand marketing leaders from around the world recently gathered virtually at Cannes Lions and Adweek “At Home” 2021, where this topic was top-of-mind. Here are five trends that surfaced at the events, giving a telling look at how brands are seeking to better meet customers’ needs.

Reflecting customers, and their worlds, authentically in content

A 2021 study by Kantar Global Monitor found that 65% of consumers say that it’s important that the companies they buy from actively promote diversity and inclusion in their own business or society as a whole.2 Whether in advertising, marketing, or entertainment, audiences want to see stories that authentically reflect the world around them—and brands are responding.

In a Cannes Lions panel, Jennifer Salke, VP/Head of Amazon Studios shared how Amazon Studios has been investing in creators around the world to tell stories that have not traditionally been given the spotlight.

The Amazon Studios leaders “have an organic eye toward diversity and discovering talent, and lifting up voices that need to be heard,” Salke said. “It really is the game-changer, as far as how authentic and original the content feels and connects with audiences around the world.”

“What's most exciting about the work Amazon is doing in Spanish-speaking Latin America is creating the opportunities to tell authentic stories that feel close to home and showing all the different experiences that happen in Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico,” said Javiera Balmaceda, Head of Originals, Spanish-Speaking Latin America at Amazon Studios, on the same panel.

Another Cannes panel featured actor and writer Daniel Lawrence Taylor, creator of Timewasters, a BAFTA-nominated comedy about a time-traveling South London jazz band. When ideating the series, Taylor drew inspiration from popular British ensemble comedy shows.

“I wanted to create something like that, but with an all-Black cast,” Taylor said. He saw an opportunity to fill the gap for people who weren’t seeing themselves reflected in current programming.

In a similar vein, in a session on connecting with customers in new locales, Priyanka Khaneja Gandhi, Associate Director and Head, Integrated Marketing Communication and Ecommerce Marketing, Colgate-Palmolive, India, shared how her team uses transcreation to hyper-localize marketing campaigns so they resonate with customers in India’s diverse and varied regions.

“On average, we transcreate every campaign into 13 languages, and we adapt the message to very specific cultural and local ways of speaking for each region,” Gandhi said.

Taking a stand on issues customers care about

Customers are increasingly aligning buying decisions with their values. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 found, for example, that 42% of US consumers started or stopped using a new brand because of their response to protests against systemic racism and calls for racial justice.

LIFEWTR is one brand that’s consistently taken a stand on racial justice issues. At an Adweek “At Home” panel, Michael Smith, Head of Marketing Communication, LIFEWTR, shared how the premium water company has authentically advocated for social justice through initiatives like “Black Art Rising,” which showcased the work of Black artists. The key, according to Smith, is building up equity around a specific cause, by regularly participating in conversations on the topic.

“When you live your values, it becomes so much easier to espouse that to your customers,” Smith said. “When you don't, the probability that you swing and miss is infinitely higher because you're not practicing it on a day-to-day basis.”

Giving customers unique experiences

There’s a reason why marketers are often seeking to “surprise and delight”—customers remember unique experiences, and they can strengthen the relationship between shoppers and a brand. That’s why, when Coca-Cola, McLaren Racing, and Amazon decided to launch a joint campaign, they knew they wanted to create something their customers would love.

“We were looking at our audience and understanding what each [collaborator] brings to the table,” Brad Ross, Vice President, Global Sports and Entertainment Marketing and Partnerships, The Coca-Cola Company, shared at a Cannes panel. “And we were thinking about what experiences would be innovative and exciting—experiences that money can't buy that we could start pulling together.”

The end result: A campaign in which McLaren’s Formula 1 drivers pulled up in full racing gear—to deliver Coca-Cola and packages to unsuspecting Amazon customers.

Building strong communities

Communities are at the heart of social interactions. Social connection is key to well-being, according to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.3 That was never more apparent than in the last year, when people around the world saw the value of connecting with likeminded others through communities—even if they were fully virtual. Perhaps it’s not surprising that 54% of B2C marketers said they will be investing in community-building in 2021, according to a Content Marketing Institute survey.4

At Cannes Lions, Jay-Ann Lopez, CEO and Founder, Black Girl Gamers, spoke about how she built a community on Twitch dedicated to heightening Black women's voices in gaming. In July 2020, for example, Lopez held the Black Girl Gamers Online Summit, which drew thousands of attendees and featured sessions about navigating the streaming world as a Black woman. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Lopez hosted several ‘Wellness Weeks’ to help her community cope with emotional or physical challenges they may have been experiencing.

“For me personally, working on Black Girl Gamers Online Summit or a Wellness Week helped me keep the community at the forefront of my mind,” Lopez said. “I realized that it's not just me feeling like this. There are others who are feeling like this, too. So we need to provide something for them to feel welcomed and recognized.”

Understanding their responsibility to customers

Brands have the ability to tell stories that reach global audiences—and that gives them an incredible responsibility.

In a conversation with Neil Lindsay, Amazon’s VP of Marketing, Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, spoke about how brands need to stay loyal to the truth, as they build their stories while seeking to promote themselves. This is especially important today, with the proliferation of conspiracy theories sowing divisions and increasing tensions around the world, amidst a global pandemic.

“We can choose to focus on the need for global cooperation. We can choose to focus on generosity—on the need in this crisis to help all the members of the human race so nobody is left behind,” Harari said. “That is the decision that corporations need to make, and TV producers, and politicians, and individuals.”

Marketers must remember that “in the end, brands are just stories that exist in our imagination,” Harari said. “Humans can suffer and humans can be happy. So yes, you must serve your brand and your profession, and that's your job. But in the end, make sure that it's the humans who are happy, and not only the brand.”

1 “State of the Connected Consumer, fourth edition,” Salesforce, 2021.
2 “The power of inclusion and diversity in advertising,” Kantar, 2021.
3 https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/key
4 "11th Annual B2C Content Marketing," Content Marketing Institute, 2020.