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Citizen consumers and useful experiences

Technology & Data

Citizen consumers and useful experiences


Businesses that address the real wants and needs of citizens will unlock new ways to build powerful relationships with communities, writes Sérgio Brodsky.

This article originally appeared in The Experience Issue, our February/March 2018 print edition of Marketing magazine.

Between 2001 and 2002 Brazil went through its largest energy crisis. The lack of infrastructure planning combined with economic growth forced the Government to ration the energy supply from its main urban centres, for intermittent periods of time. Back then, as a student living in São Paulo, I remember streets darkening as the sun went down. In one of those evenings, walking back home from university, two men driving a motorcycle stopped right in front of me. One of them jumped off the bike and before I knew it, he hit me on the head with the back of his gun and stole my backpack.

São Paulo is one of the many existing (and emerging) megacities feeling its ‘growing pains’ due to an increased demand for ever more comfortable lifestyles. As someone working in the marketing, media and advertising space, this is an important insight. If value is created from a need or desire, why aren’t our civic interactions populating journey maps aimed at optimising the CX?

Markets, choice, and competition are not just a consumer’s best friend, but their political representation. Brands with some level of foresight able to broaden their audiences from customers to citizens and their revenue model from sales to the creation of shared value will be the game-changers driving our industry forward. This is the type of thinking required to embrace Urban Brand-Utility, an approach to brand communications I’ve been advocating for a couple of years now, after identifying a distinctively intriguing pattern and the strategic opportunity this may afford.

For example, New Zealand beer brand DB Export wanted to communicate its sustainability credentials, and what better way of doing it than by upcycling yeast waste (a by-product of beer) into fuel? An initial batch of 300,000 litres of ‘Brewtroleum’ was formulated using 30,000 litres of ethanol, which was extracted from more than 58,000 litres of leftover yeast slurry that would otherwise be discarded.

Sold at all 60 Gull petrol stations across NZ’s North Island, the biofuel has 8% less carbon than traditional petroleum at the same performance, something that compelled ethical consumers to buy into the brand, representing a 10% increase from the 8,6 million bottles sold. Moreover, New Zealand’s Automobile Association says drivers using 30 litres of biofuel a week would save more than 250 kilograms of CO2 emissions every year. And when 80% of urban diseases are a result of air pollution and the fact that climate change will be one of the biggest costs for business and society in the coming years, it becomes a matter of demonstrating how the private sector can creatively fix what big government is failing to address.

Heineken has not (yet) gone the full length of quantifying the economic value of its brand impact in return for tax rebates or other fiscal incentives, however its ‘Cities Project’ may give a hint of things to come. A current initiative is New York’s +Pool, the world’s first floating and filtering pool in the shape of a ‘plus’ symbol, cleaning around 600 thousand litres of water a day.

Despite being surrounded by water, the millions of people in New York are currently unable to enjoy it the way they should. To help revert this situation, Heineken is asking New Yorkers to sign a pledge to swim in the +Pool, offering $100,000 in support when the goal of 100,000 pledges is reached.

The pool was estimated to cost a total of US$20 million and although the projected return on investment has not been disclosed, one can envisage how this initiative might not only reduce the cost of managing a city but also unlock economic value from under-utilised assets.

From creating a new free public space and strengthening the river’s local economy, through to fuelling tourism it will also alleviate conservation efforts with potential to generate revenue from the licensing of the filtration system that would then fund more public benefits. The +Pool installation also creates a clutter-free, immersive new channel for Heineken.

This thinking is perhaps the best representation of JWT’s worldwide chief creative officer Craig Davis’ 2005 quote “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in”. It took almost a decade for brands to understand that this imperative meant more than just creating “interesting” content that only added to the very interruptive clutter.

People are interested in their wellbeing and the factors enabling or blocking it, which could take form in various ways. Bathing on a hot summer day is one, but improving your neighbourhood’s overall services and infrastructure is another.

In Moscow, Sberbank was approached by major Russian real estate developers to collaborate on better infrastructure planning in residential areas. People’s opinions on local needs fuelled targeted campaigns, promoting loans for small businesses. The ‘Neighbourhoods’ campaign generated nine times as many small business responses than traditional loan advertising.

In other words, people had their needs addressed with neighbourhoods becoming more attractive. The city increases tax collection from the new businesses being set up, which also reduces the cost related from having to deal with derelict areas. As the biggest Russian bank, caring about citizens is not just a nice thing to do but an effective way for Sberbank to positively impact its bottom line.

Consumers may not hold the answers for everything, but that does not mean they should be treated as merely individual shoppers in the market. Citizen-consumers are important players in enabling business to tackling the issues that matter most. As important as it is to reduce the number of clicks on a consumer journey, reducing violence in the streets, pollution, unemployment, or enhancing opportunities for entertainment, human connections and so much more is what people are interested in.

Still, a fundamental lack of trust is what could be hindering data-driven innovation. Creating a ‘social contract’ around data use that improves our wellbeing is an opportunity for brands to establish relationships at scale and enable the creation of shared value. The recent Project Decode speaks directly to this. By providing tools that put individuals in control of whether they keep their personal data private or share it for the public good, Decode could be the information bridge allowing brands to become more relevant in people’s lives.

Most sensible people agree that climate change and other human-induced threats are affecting the planet. But virtually everyone – climate change fundamentalists and deniers alike – have trouble visualising how climate change will affect their own neighbourhoods. This is a behavioural bias called ‘hyperbolic discounting’ where people tend to value present conditions over future ones, making us complacent about impending risks.

It turns out that city-based visualisations really hit home when users can see what is occurring, distinctly, at home. At last year’s Annual Meeting in Davos and at TED Global 2017, the Earth Timelapse, a digital platform that tracks urban risks on a planetary scale, was revealed as a way to turn awareness into action and potentially close the public-private- people gap.

We all have some influence over what is produced as well as how communications are deployed. Turning useful tactics into a new way of doing business is what will trigger some meaningful innovation in the brand experience space… I hope.


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Sérgio Brodsky

Sérgio Brodsky (L.LM, MBA) is an internationally experienced brand strategist, a marketing lecturer at RMIT and chairman at The Marketing Academy Alumni. He is passionate about cities and culture and the role of brands and technology in society, an intersection from where he drew inspiration to conceive a radically innovative approach to brand communications, he coined Urban Brand-Utility. Connect with Sérgio on www.sergio-brodsky.com or through his Twitter handle @brandKzarglobal brand strategy and innovation. Follow him on Twitter: brandKzar.

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