Consumer alienation can happen quickly. Does anyone remember New Coke? More often, it happens slowly, almost imperceptibly, because alienation is obscured by our broader human experience which is found in our collective consciousness.
While consumers seek novelty and variety, there is a saturation point. Evidence indicates that buyers are increasingly detached from brands, products, and even entire categories because of the way they are digitally over-marketed.
What do we mean by "consumer alienation"? In brief, it is the process by which consumers lose interest in brands and services due to (1) the failure of marketers to communicate with buyers and prospects in a way that is trustworthy and respectful; and (2) the emotional connection between buyers and brands has been damaged. Digital over-marketing only compounds these problems.
When companies excessively use digital marketing approaches, we (collectively as marketers) do nothing to cement the emotional bonds we hope to establish. Rather, we put people into predictable "sales funnels" (which are quite transparent to consumers, by the way) that treat consumers very robotically.
When hundred of companies use the same approach; consumers are overwhelmed. A consumer quickly realizes that they are cogs in a much bigger marketing machine (many brands x many campaigns x many time periods). Then, without a clear message and against a backdrop of digital noise, brands lose the stickiness needed to build ROI over the long term. As prospects fall further into the sales funnel, they filter out more, and fall further away from your brand. At Surveys & Forecasts, LLC we focus on important marketing developments like these with many of our clients.
Digital Marketing Creates Consumer Alienation
I suppose that we can't blame marketers. Digital marketing reaches a target audience pretty efficiently and can promote your business when the message is clear. However, marketers are tempted to use all available resources (e.g., personal information) to stimulate consumers buying. This morphs into "depersonalization". Consumers then feel alienated because personal information and preferences are used excessively without clear consent.. When every company and brand uses their information to market to them, trust in all brands is quickly eroded.
A brilliant colleague of mine has conducted many studies to prove that marketers can achieve significant increases in ROAS when media dollars are targeted at moderately active buyers within a category (i.e., the “moveable middle”). Yet one wonders about the linkage between heavily digitally targeted (or perhaps over-conditioned) buyers and the impact on their emotional connection to the brand long-term. Does over-targeting and over-marketing create alienation?
Sales Funnels and Trust
Sales funnels are powerful tools for marketers, but they have their drawbacks. They cause consumer alienation and can reduce trust between companies and customers by aggressively encouraging buyers to take incremental steps towards a purchase decision. Typically this starts with low-cost items (i.e., freemium trials) but quickly moves to full-priced subscriptions or premium services. This process is known as "nudging", because it nudges you into buying more than you might otherwise want. This assumes that consumers will behave robotically rather than as intelligent beings who make reasonably rational buying decisions. The approach is fundamentally cynical, and has consequences for companies, brands, and society-at-large. Increasingly, consumers are asking: am I being manipulated yet again?
Is Technology a Solution?
Tech has the potential to improve digital marketing practices. AI and machine learning can be used to target consumers in a more modulated, ethical, and dare I say emotional way(!) with more deeply personalized, yet appropriate, marketing messages. Tech and the use of AI is already leading to consumers being over-served content that they don't want or need. Social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram offer little transparency around ad serving or data collection practices.
Marketers have access to an unprecedented amount of personal data about consumers. Should they use all of it? While I am a free thinker, to avoid manipulation perhaps some regulation is needed to place limits how much information marketers can collect from users -- and what strategies they are allowed to use when targeting consumers. Consumers have the power to vote with their feet and their dollars by choosing brands that respect their privacy and do not digitally abuse them.
Avoid alienating your customers with excessive digital marketing efforts by making sure that you understand what consumer alienation really is and know how it affects relationships between your buyers and your brands. Digital marketing methods can be used to create positive experiences, but only when they're ethical, responsible, and not excessive.
To talk more about customer alienation -- please reach out.. For more information about our services and customer feedback programs, please visit the Surveys & Forecasts, LLC website or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.