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Q&A with Isentia: Knowing your customer base in an ever-changing media environment

Getting to know your customers is becoming increasingly challenging for many organisations and small businesses. Social media, influencers and targeted advertising has changed the way people perceive brands and likewise how brands communicate. 

We sat down with Ngaire Crawford is fead of insights New Zealand at Isentia, to learn more about this important topic. 

Hi Ngaire, can you tell our readers a bit about Isentia?  

Isentia is a media intelligence company that operates across Asia Pacific. I run the insights division, where we work with organisations on measuring their communications strategies. We also conduct research that helps them better understand how different issues, topics and concepts are being understood by both the media and the wider public. 

How has the way people interact with businesses and brands changed? What are some of the trends you have noticed?

The way that people choose to receive information is now highly personalised and curated. There are so many media sources, brands and companies, along with all the other information we are bombarded with, and as a consumer you can be very choosy about what you do and don't want to engage with. This can present a struggle for a lot of organisations: how do you make enough noise to let people know who you are, but also build an authentic community and open lines of communication with your audience?

Is this a New Zealand thing, or is the way people engage with businesses changing across the world?

It’s definitely not specific to NZ, it is global technology that has fundamentally changed how we all communicate. However, there are aspects of it that are more acute in New Zealand because of the size of the market. New Zealanders are no longer captive to NZ brands or organisations and are able to participate easily in global communities and trends. This can make it really challenging for local companies to engage Kiwi audiences.

Are there any particular trends you've noticed about New Zealand particularly in this field? 

Small businesses in NZ have to get their social media and audience engagement right and build up a loyal community to take on the journey with them. One of the advantages of this is that your audience can become habitual purchasers and feel personally involved in the brand. One of the ways to combat the influx of cheaper overseas products is to make your customers feel like they belong to something. This may mean a lot of work on community creation - and in a market this size it can take time to build. 

What do these changes mean for businesses? What are their biggest challenges? 

Remaining authentic is often the key challenge in this over-saturated environment. Authenticity and connection are valuable commodities for any organisation, from government policy to selling make up, your audiences need to trust and believe you. Consumers are trusting, but they can also be cynical and very quick to call out if things don't feel genuine or that they are being manipulated. 

Are business struggling to really get to know their customers, and future customers? 

I think large organisations in NZ sit on a lot of data about their current customers, and some of them use this data in brilliant ways to keep their customers engaged and happy. But there's not always the same attention paid to how the wider public view you. This is important to attract not only new customers, but also future talent. If you want to survive, and thrive, long-term then you need to build a brand with a strong reputation that will make younger audiences care about you enough to keep you around well into the future. 

What kind of impact has targeted online advertising had on the way people make their purchasing decisions? 

I think influencers have been the biggest game changer, which is basically targeted advertising. When I’m looking at my own social media feeds, it’s more likely that I will see a new product because of someone I follow, rather than seeing any other direct marketing about it. It's incredibly easy to opt out of advertising, so companies have to go where the audiences have moved.

Can you tell me a bit about 'micro influencers'?

‘Micro-influencers’ is a term to describe people who are influential in a particular niche. They tend to have smaller, but more engaged and loyal followers they have built up over time. Their audiences trust their opinion and are following them to hear their thoughts. It's a term mostly used to differentiate from "celebrity" figures, who have incredibly large followings. We’re talking about the difference between a New Zealand-based fashion influencer, and someone like Kim Kardashian, for example. 

Why is having a modern understanding of public opinion/attitudes so important?

How people interact with each other will only continue to get more fragmented, and this has already led to a shift in how people purchase products and who they trust. The rise of influencers, Youtubers and content creators has seen entire brands and companies built on the back of personalities, who spend a lot of time talking about things they do or don't like. It's also more common to research online and on social media to see what people are saying and what kind of experience they've had. Understanding this tonal and demographic shift is important in how you measure how people might be feeling about you, and how they might be choosing to voice that opinion. 

Does the traditional ways companies look to get to know consumers need shaking up?

The way that companies use data has got incredibly interesting and sophisticated, but it can be very inward, missing the social and cultural context of the world where their consumers live. It's really important for organisations to look at their overall goal and purpose. Companies must build the right data and measurement frameworks around them. There are a lot of metrics, across marketing and communications particularly, that often don't fit with the overall story of an organisation and don't really explain the impact that those functions may or may not have. 

Can you talk to me a bit about RepID? How does it work? How does it tackle these challenges and make things easier for businesses?

We created our Reputation Analysis and RepID score so that we could look at the wider view of how people are feeling about any given organisation. We combine organic social media conversations with survey data to get an idea of how people are talking and feeling about an organisation and what might be impacting those views. We've designed something to really play in that grey area between a detractor and an advocate so that organisations can see the opportunity in apathy.