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Decoding Consumers Online to Build Brands that Can Keep Up with Cultural Preferences


With more customers online and plugged into digital experiences, the next challenge for brands is getting to know who their customers really are; not by clicks, scrolls, or shopping cart behavior, but by their attitudes, shared ideologies, and the power of their networks.

Watch our webinar where insights and brand leaders from 343 Industries (the team behind Halo) and creative agency Guerilla Suit discuss the evolution of cultural intelligence and how brands are turning that into brand strategy. Below are highlights of the conversation.

How do you feel about the increased power that consumers have in shaping public opinion? Is this an opportunity or a challenge?

“I think it’s great that the layer between the customer and the developer is thinner than it has been in the past. It allows really smart teams the opportunity to stop guessing about what they should build. It also forces brands to have accountability for their product in front of the public, and it forces quality,” said Sean Baron, Director of Franchise Strategy & Insights for 343 Industries (Microsoft). “I believe when you start pulling customers into the process you start to create synergistic relationships where communities feel deeply involved and invested in the companies they choose to engage with.” 

The challenge, he notes, is putting insights in the hands of creative teams. Throwing feedback at them the wrong way can be irresponsible and it can undermine the process of creating good products. “You don’t want to constantly chase meaningless sentiment,” he said.

Moreover, brands that have a history of working with customer insights people are now getting real time feeds from social listening tools, and are trying to use intuition and interpret that data themselves when it’s not their expertise to do it.

Do you feel that the concept of “influencer” and influence is changing? 

“You have to be very aware (in real time) of who is actually influential as opposed to someone saying they have a lot of followers,” said James Moody, co-founder and CEO of Guerilla Suit. The agency is using a hybrid approach to find consumers who may not have a large social following, but are influential in their communities, and inviting them — not selling them — to be part of an experience. “Good or bad, love it or hate it, the feedback is the feedback; and this is working 10X better than we expected,” Moody said.

The good news? “That approach is absolutely scalable,” said Baron.

How have brands historically used the internet to better understand their customers and the consumer mindset? How is that evolving?

Moody said his agency has a thirst for data about connection, thinking, loyalty, pride — something the agency describes as “magic” — relative to generational trends. But their biggest data source is simply living in the culture and developing intuition. 

In contrast, 343 Industries triangulates several data sources including concept testing, customer satisfaction surveys, community management, user research, and in-game telemetry that tells them what people are up to in the game. They’ve also layered on social listening and insights from Yonder, which are about customers in their “ natural” environments.

“The goal is to get closer and closer to customers in action in order to understand their attitudes and preferences,” said Baron. “We want to know: How happy are you right now? Is this a magical experience? And we want to know if their response to how magical something else is correlated to their willingness to spend or inviting someone else to play.”

The goal is also to make that learning cycle faster and faster each time. However, “the challenge for brands is to absorb trends without completely adopting them,” added Moody. “If you react too quickly, you’re not married to something that may not stand the test of time.

We’re seeing the rise of cultural intelligence. What sort of action are you taking with those insights?

The panel agreed that the goal for brands is connection. 

“We’d use it for identifying the right, most authentic, vectors for growth and connection with our customers,” Baron said. “And for our games, which are “live” and updated for years — were still updating games from 2014 — this sort of intelligence could help maintain communities for those products.”

At Guerilla Suit, the goal would be to inform messaging and creative that really connects. “We’d use that intelligence to be more authentic in what we put out there, so that it can become part of an ongoing cultural conversation vs. us disrupting or forcing something to happen,” concluded Moody.

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