Sense and sensibility: A better way to engage consumers

Mastecard's CMO unpacks the brand's successful marketing pivot.

Marketing has evolved and taken many forms as consumers’ appetites and expectations continuously shift.  

Research shows that consumers today are far less faithful to brands than their predecessors. 

One study conducted by Havas determined that – in 2019 – most people wouldn’t care if 81% of brands disappeared from the face of the earth. 

And the sentiment behind this sort of promiscuity leads to increased turnover on the S&P 500. The average tenure of a company on the S&P 500 was 61 years in 1958; by 2011, this figure plummeted to just 18 years. 

When consumers don’t care about a brand, its value erodes – quickly. But the challenge brands face now is the same as it’s always been: proving that they matter. 

To this end – and to help us look forward – it’s useful to look back and evaluate the different ways marketers have sought to solve the same problem by different strategies. 

While marketing has employed many techniques, there’s often overlap – the distinctions are not hard-and-fast. Over the years, marketers have tried it all: from employing logical approaches to focusing on emotion and, more recently, relying on data and analytics for highly targeted messaging. 

Today, however, we need something different: sense and sensibility. But what do I mean by that?

Sense, in this case, is how consumers receive and engage with their environment, which they do with all their senses. And sensibility refers to how brands need to be sensitive to the true and subtle nuances in consumers’ frame of mind. 

My two cents on tapping all five senses 

Today, as consumers are so overloaded with information (more than 5,000 ads per day, in fact), their attention span is maxed out, and marketers need to find a way to cut through the clutter. 

You may have noticed that brands are leaping out of their comfort zone to curate experiences that reach consumers’ senses – the ones often neglected by marketers. 

So, how do we do that? By being bold and engaging all of a consumer’s faculties – in other words, not just appealing to our eyes and ears, but registering with all their senses. 

At Mastercard, we have optimized our look by dropping our name from our logo and creating a complete visual system. To engage the sense of sound, we have created a first of its kind sonic architecture for our brand. In addition, we’re also creating special dining experiences that focus on the sense of taste. One example is our PRICELESS tables, which offer extraordinary dining experiences in unique places around the world. More recently, our PRICELESS restaurants in NYC brought the very best dining experiences in the world to one location – and we’ve created our own branded macaron flavors. 

By doing this, we aim to make our brand recognizable at every touchpoint of the consumer journey – whether that journey takes place by voice-enabled platforms, digital devices or through a passion like gastronomy. 

Being sensitive to consumers 

Cutting through the clutter by being bold – and engaging the five senses – is only half the battle. The other half is through sensibility.

People are demanding that brands stand for something. More than 80% of those surveyed in McCann Worldgroup’s The Truth About Global Brands study firmly believe brands have the power to effect positive social change. Respondents also said they would be more likely to buy from a brand with purpose. And brands with a high sense of purpose experienced a brand valuation increase of 175% over the past 12 years, according to Kantar Consulting’s new Purpose 2020 report. 

Brands need to understand what consumer’s genuinely care about and sensibility allows brands to do that. 

One company that’s doing this well is Nike.

Nike didn’t decide on the Colin Kaepernick campaign because consumers were demanding them to take those steps. Nike was sensitive to the situation happening around them, saw an opportunity to stand for something, and then genuinely connected with their consumers. 

It worked. After launching the campaign, Nike saw a 31% increase in revenue. 

Those few brands that can win hearts and minds, by appealing to sense and sensibility, will reap an added benefit: today’s connected consumers are vocal advocates for what they’re passionate about. And passion is a powerful influence on other consumers. 

We’ve now entered a period in history when consumers engage in a constant and open dialogue with brands and other consumers.

It’s up to marketers to steer this conversation. 


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