Are brands that say the least the ones that actually mean the most?

How are you? Busy, you? A standard greeting. We hear it every day.

Life is hectic, and while we think we do more are we actually experiencing less? We have become busier people, strapped for time, smart phones in our pockets with push notifications constantly demanding our attention.  Constantly plugged in, communicating with our friends and family, thinking about chores and deadlines. Our laptops open in meetings finalising reports, sending emails while simultaneously trying to take in important facts and updates. Multitasking to maximise time. And yet we have been warned that multitasking doesn’t actually exist and research confirms it.  But we are expected to do it anyway. Stay calm and collected on the surface, but paddle like heck underneath. It’s the norm but it’s also at the very core of a new phenomenon coined duck syndrome. 

If you are anything like me, your phone probably has way too many apps on it.  From social media, news and entertainment, fitness and performance trackers, banking & travel I suffer from app- overflow. While some of these are indeed quite useful there aren’t enough hours in a day to give them all my full attention and yet they all beg me for it. A new deal here, a new message there, somebody went for a run and I have immediately been told of their achievement. Sometimes by the person themselves, along with a selfie #pushingmyself. Brilliant! Sometimes apps will even do the work for them and send me a detailed breakdown of their run including time and distance. There is just too much unsolicited info to take in. While our brains are in information overdrive and as if life wasn’t busy enough many brands are increasingly counting on apps to keep us engaged and start two way conversations. 

The fact that people’s attention is a scarce commodity is no secret and companies across sectors seem to be thinking about how to adapt to a possible different status quo in the future of marketing. In an article titled “To keep your customers, keep it simple” Patrick Spenner and Karen Freemann state that an onslaught of marketing messages isn’t perceived as empowering and actually has the opposite effect with consumers feeling overwhelmed by brands’ persistent and ill-conceived efforts to engage. In an article for the Guardian titled “Why too much choice is stressing us out” Stuart Jeffries elaborates on what motivated Tesco to scrap 30,000 of their 90,000 products of their shelves. The discounters Aldi and Lidl for example make things easier for customers providing an overall much simpler process and fewer items (2000 and 3000 respectively). While offering choice has historically been an element companies would pride themselves on it has often led consumers down confusing purchase paths. The savviest brands have identified this and managed to simplify and personalize the route. Tesco Chief Executive Dave Lewis has green lit a trial in 50 Tesco stores grouping ingredients for meals catering to time constrained customers alleviating the burden of choice making their shopping experience less of an ordeal and in doing so banks on customers recognising this positive change which in turn will naturally increase engagement. 

In Kit Kat’s most recent 30-second TV ad it asks whether “just absolutely nothing” isn’t nice for a change, featuring a controversial blank screen and while the whole thing is obviously a stunt to drive customer engagement it recognises that there is an issue and this in itself is refreshing as it makes customers feel understood.  There are a number of other brands that don’t spend money on advertising or force us into two way conversations. Like Zara for example who don’t have an advertising budget but provide an experience that in itself drives engagement. And then there is Sriracha: whilst you may never have heard of Sriracha you have probably had some. The company behind the Thai chilli sauce in a clear bottle with the ubiquitous illustration of a rooster and a green cap has never spent any money on advertising and has focused all of its attention on providing an amazing product and has let insider cred and word of mouth do the rest. Founder David Tran never even secured a trademark for his Sriracha sauce but doesn’t see it as a missed opportunity. If anything he sees it as free publicity as companies like Heinz are launching their own version of Sriracha.  With everybody screaming for attention perhaps there is something to say for a top product but being understated.  

Perhaps the future isn’t as much about the dialogue as it is about decision-simplicity strategies that give the consumer what they need, when they need it and above all don’t constantly demand  their attention, time or focus. Like a 5 star waiter in a restaurant, anticipating and serving you all that you need, when you need it, never intrusive, as if he was never even there. Yet when you leave you will suddenly remember and you will want to come back because you ended up with a fantastic experience. Let’s imagine a future where brands gave us back our time and asked for minimal engagement. Would we respect, remember and seek them out for that reason? 

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