4 key takeaways from the MRS’ Customers Exposed conference

Last week we were lucky enough to present at The Market Research Society’ Customers Exposed conference, sharing our latest research into what consumers want to see from the future of retail.

Now in its second year, Customers Exposed aims to explore current and emerging trends in consumer behaviour through a series of thought-provoking presentations.

Despite covering a diverse range of topics – from our relationship with technology to images to banks – 4 common themes emerged which have implications for businesses across sectors. These were authenticity, emotion, collaboration and adaption.

Authenticity

The first key theme was the need for greater authenticity. As Laura Morris highlighted in her paper, an increase in the use of imagery amongst consumers is changing their expectations of and responses to the images brands use within their marketing and advertising campaigns. Interestingly, relatable images have much greater cut-through than staged imagery, which is no longer resonating.

This trend towards greater authenticity also played out to a degree in the way that many of the papers were presented. Julia Beaver told the story of her daughter, Abbie, to bring young people’s financial management behaviour to life and Caroline Hayter went a step further: bringing 3 consumers on stage so delegates could hear more about current behavioural trends straight from the horse’s mouth.

Emotion

The second key theme of the day was that brands need to make an emotional connection with consumers.

This is important across sectors. Julia Beaver made the case for emotion within financial services, arguing that banks which build an emotional bond with customers in their childhood years are likely to see significant returns later down the line.

Alison Camps pointed out that we’re also seeing a number of collaborative economy brands trying to build deeper bonds with customers by tapping into their emotional needs. Airbnb, for example, tries to tap into the need for belonging, associating itself with and stories about feeling at home and fitting in.

Collaboration

One of the key themes of our presentation, which was based on our primary research into the future of shopping, was a strong desire amongst consumers to see greater collaboration from and amongst brands. Our research uncovered that 46% of the population think that big brands are responsible for ruining the high street so it’s no surprise that many want to see them collaborating with smaller and independent businesses to make the high street a more appealing destination.

The importance of collaboration was also echoed in Alison Camps’ great paper around changing patterns of ownership: “Customers are more promiscuous [than before]. We live in a world of ‘and’ not ‘or’. Monogamy is no longer the name of the game. Brands should be thinking about collaboration, not competition.” Very well said!

Adaption

The final and, in our eyes, most critical theme was around the importance of brands being able to adapt. In today’s fast-moving world where consumers’ expectations change rapidly and new competitors are ever emerging, this is imperative.

This theme came out strongly in our own research (which can be downloaded here). With consumers feeling disgruntled with the current state of high street shopping, brands need to respond to their changing expectations if they are to maintain their place on the high street. But this theme was also picked up on by Julia Beavers. In the face of increasing competition from challenger banks, the more traditional players need to anticipate and embrace change, using technology to their advantage.