As Enterprise Chief Marketing Officer for Farmers Insurance, Mike Linton has brought a digital focus to the brand best known for its quirky TV commercials. We asked him for his burning consumer insight question and he focused on the ever-shrinking time and attention that consumers are willing to give brands in the digital age.
GenPop: What’s your reaction to the survey results?
Mike Linton: Based on the survey results, consumers in the U.S. are researching insurance options, but in general, not spending much time on it. One important takeaway from the data is that a company’s website, recommendations from others and online reviews are the top drivers of final insurance purchase decisions.
GenPop: How does that compare to historical trends?
Linton: In general, the results were consistent with what we are seeing in the marketplace, which is shorter attention spans, higher demand for content being either personalized or entertaining and a consistent “digital” in the forefront of the purchasing/learning story.
GenPop: How has the time and attention that people are willing to give to brands evolved?
Linton: I started at Procter & Gamble in the 1980s where a 60-second commercial was a key standard. And now people are “hook me early or I don’t see you,” whether it’s a television show, Facebook post or an advertising spot. Brands need to be interesting early. Also, people don’t want to wade through a bunch of what the company wants to tell them. They want to be entertained or learn what they want to know as fast as possible. This behavior is partially driven by technology, which is setting the norm for how fast consumers expect satisfaction as they define it. That means content has to capture their attention and tell a story in shorter and shorter bursts.
GenPop: Should it matter how complicated a brand purchase is as to whether a person will decide how much time to give their attention?
Linton: The key is the consumer perspective. The company may think it is offering a complex service or product, but the consumer decides if it is complex or not. And if they decide it is complex or high risk, they will likely give it more time. Net, complexity is a consumer-defined thing, not a company-defined thing. If I’ve bought 100 financial instruments, the 101st may not be so complex, no matter what you tell me. If it’s my first purchase, yeah, it probably is. So, this is more of a marketplace, personalized consumer call than it is a brand call.
GenPop: When people are making these more expensive purchases, isn’t there is a sense of risk?
Linton: Yes. All purchases aren’t equal. Take bar soap, for example. I buy the soap, and if I don’t like the soap, I buy another bar. It costs a dollar. If I buy the wrong insurance or the wrong car, that’s an expensive choice. These choices are asymmetrical in their risk/price profile. I would recommend consumers think that through and while they don’t always do that, I recommend it.
GenPop: Technology companies have tried to disrupt and simplify complex purchases. How has that changed the consumer?
Linton: There’s no doubt that the marketplace moves faster than ever and many purchase considerations are crammed into available consumer time versus what the brand would want or what the historical norm was. That can significantly alter the purchase cycle and consumer consideration. Technology will simplify or shortcut a complex purchase if that’s what consumers want, and there’s a lot of data to show that fast, easy, and convenient are winning trends in the marketplace. In the end, consumers decide what’s best for them and companies who want to be profitable will enable that connection on the consumer’s terms.
GenPop: What does that means for how that might change your business in the future?
Mike Linton: From a marketing perspective and a company perspective, the consumer’s almost always in charge. The marketplace will move as fast as it can to match the consumer and satisfy those demands –ideally profitably. What I see and hear the consumer saying is, “I want it simpler, faster and I want more control of the process.” I believe the marketplace and technology will continue to evolve that way for just about everything. Remember what it was like to buy an airline ticket 40 years ago? Technology worked to beat the complexity of that system and it will for many others.
GenPop: What does it mean for brands and loyalty?
Mike Linton: Brands and loyalty matter a lot because brands are usually the first sorting choice when consumers think about making a purchase. If consumers aren’t totally loyal to one brand, there’s often a select group of brands they start with – their consideration set. They then sort by secondary factors like convenience, price or other variables. That puts a premium on the overall value equation, which includes price and experience.
GenPop: How does that change the way you approach maintaining their loyalty?
Linton: Consumers always want things faster, better, and with higher value. Not too long ago, tons of stores were closed on Sundays and evenings, and that was the way it was. That’s game over for our consumers today. Loyalty is earned and brands need to earn it with consistent consumer-based improvements over time. Anytime a brand misses delivering its value proposition, it creates a chance for its competition in the fight for consumers. You’re never done with that fight.