Headshot of Matthew Tilley, VP of Growth Marketing at Vericast

Consumer behavior has grown increasingly complex, often displaying contradictory preferences within consumer segments — or even from the same consumer. Matthew Tilley, vice president of Growth Marketing at Vericast, shares insights from his recent ANA Brand Masters presentation, exploring the nuanced demands for personalized experiences and privacy protection. He dives into the dichotomy of consumer desires and provides advice for how marketers can effectively respond.

Today’s consumers are contradictory

Marketing is about reaching the consumer, understanding them and what’s on their mind and trying to bridge any barriers so they buy more of your products.

Right now, consumers are probably sending some very mixed signals.

“Consumers often hold two very distinct but opposing opinions. Moreso, they hold these differing beliefs simultaneously to be equally true and do so without any sense of deceit or irony,” says Matthew.

A prime example of this is the recent shift toward valuing the purchase of locally made goods while also valuing the speed and convenience of online shopping and home delivery. These two things generally do not go together, yet consumers highly value both.

As a marketer, what other consumer contradictions is the industry currently facing, and how can you overcome them?

Four key consumer contradictions for marketers to consider

1.   Consumer attitudes toward personalization versus privacy

Generally, consumers highly value a personalized experience. However, according to the Vericast marketing outlook report, when consumers were given the choice between privacy — ensuring their data isn’t going to be used by anyone anywhere else — and a personalized experience, privacy won by a thin margin.

To further complicate the picture, even if consumers valued privacy over personalization, they responded positively when data was used to make a more personalized experience.

This does not mean a company should breach privacy rules and regulations to create a more personalized experience, but it’s worth recognizing the more consumers see themselves reflected by a brand, the more likely they are to buy in.

2.   Consumer views on brand loyalty versus choice

When it comes to marketing, consumer loyalty is a marketer’s holy grail. Companies want customers to be locked into their brand and to ignore competitors. But consumers value having options and flexibility to choose to go where they want and do what they want. As a result, over the last couple of years, brand loyalty has decreased so much that many marketers fear loyalty is dead.

“Fifty-seven percent of Gen Z consumers said in a recent study they are definitely less brand loyal than they were pre-pandemic,” says Matthew.

Another component of the contradiction of loyalty versus options is that the marketing industry still subscribes to a lot of old rules of loyalty.

“Loyalty is no longer just about the consumer making some kind of lifelong commitment to the brand. Instead, brands must continue to provide real and lasting value to consumers.”

Furthermore, the value a brand provides must continuously evolve. Brands can no longer provide the same value year after year because their consumers and their needs change. Brands that can evolve with their consumers or provide value at various stages of life will win loyalty.

3.   Consumers can’t decide between saving and splurging

It’s no secret that many people are having a difficult economic time. With inflation still an issue, many consumers are pinching pennies, which means saving money and getting a good deal is a top priority. When asked, consumers said they want sales, coupons, discounts or other ways to save money.

However, there has also been an increase in “fun-flation”— although want to save money on necessities like milk and eggs, they are willing to wait in line for hours to spend thousands of dollars on things like concert tickets, vacations or other experiences.

“Saving versus splurging really comes down to what consumers need and what’s important to them. What someone needs is a relative concept. Needs are what consumers value and find to be important — often things that bring joy into their lives.”

Matthew Tilley, vice president of Growth Marketing, Vericast

On some level, everyone needs joy in their lives. Therefore, consumers are more willing to make sacrifices and changes to do and buy the things they really want.

4.   Consumers fluctuate preferences for digital versus analog environments

While there has been a significant shift toward digital coupons and discount codes, print offers — those that come in the mail or newspaper — remain a thriving delivery mechanism. This contradiction is less about which is better or more preferred and more about how both print and digital offers have their place.

“You can get digital offers to a lot of people over a broad area and enable nearly real-time engagement data capture, but analog continues to be valuable because we’re human beings and like the tactile experience of physically interacting with something.”

The value of both digital and analog spaces extends beyond distributing messages into consumption of goods and services — it’s the in-store versus e-commerce debate. “It’s not either-or; it’s both-and,” says Tilley. “Research shows that marketing leaders are prioritizing contextual commerce — the notion of making sure consumers can engage with marketing and commerce whenever and wherever it makes sense for their lives.”

Navigating between digital and analog in marketing is about being in the right context and being contextually appropriate. For example, being active and available in social media channels because that’s where many consumers spend their time.

Furthermore, it’s about being location-aware and relevant for consumers. A consumer who is going to the grocery store in person is open to a different buying experience than one who is settled in for the night and shopping from home. Those are very distinctive opportunities for marketers to engage consumers and draw them into a buying experience.

The same is true for advertising experiences. When reading certain content on the internet or watching certain genres of television, consumers will be open to different kinds of messages.

“To overcome this contradiction requires a continual weaving in and out of digital and analog advertising and buying experiences. It comes down to understanding context and knowing how to surround the consumer when they’re available and in the way they want to engage,” Matthew says.

Actionable recommendations for overcoming contradictory consumer behavior

1.  Have a clear first-party data strategy

“You’ve got to have the software, the tools, the partners, the team and a plan to leverage the data you have or are collecting,” according to Tilley. Make sure you have a strategy that explains how your company will use their data to make the consumer’s life better.

2.  Use direct mail

There seem to be two types of marketers: those who use direct mail and those who don’t.

“Those in the ‘don’t use’ category are missing out on an efficient way to reach a large swathe of the population with a very tangible message of things like deals, coupons, and brand messages really help you connect with the exact right people at the right time,” says Matthew.

3.  Intentionally leverage social media and digital marketing efforts

When using social media, make sure it is not just a part of your communications but a part of your commerce strategy, as well. Social media and digital marketing is not about one tactic or another–it’s about leveraging the whole ecosystem of print and digital materials to surround your consumers and connect with them when, where and how they want to.

4.  Prioritize measurement as part of your strategy

Measurement in this sense refers to the ability to get feedback from the campaign that then automatically plows learnings into the next campaign. This ensures every program is consistently starting from a more informed place than the last.

Additional advice for combating contradictory consumer behavior

“In more philosophical terms, the best way to overcome these contradictions is simply by applying nuance,” notes Matthew.

Every audience deserves respect. Consumers operate in a context where they have needs and things they value. Understanding and appreciating those things rounds out who the target audience is and enables brands to meaningfully connect with them.

“The more we think of consumers as people and the more we treat them as actual human beings, the more marketing is going to embrace these paradoxical attitudes, beliefs and behaviors,” Matthew says.

Interested in learning more? Check out the full episode of “Business to Human” with Matthew Tilley, where he unpacks the contradictory nature of today’s consumers and provides his insights for navigating the dichotomy of consumer desires through sharing concrete and philosophical advice. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.