Accelerated by the pandemic, consumer shopping habits have been turned on their head. We now prioritise convenience and accessibility.

From cars to computers, appliances to apparel, fast food to fizzy drinks, the choices are endless — making price and product intrinsics difficult to discern. The Internet has become our best and most indispensable friend and, with it, a product's features, benefits and prices are available at the touch of a button.  
The consequence of all the above? Brand loyalty has been severely eroded.  

We, as marketers, need to mitigate against that erosion to embrace this rapidly changing, complex consumer world in a way that creates a discernible advantage for our brands
The answer in doing lies in building an emotional connection with the consumer. This must be a connection that is based on universal human emotions of:
  • love
  • trust
  • charm
  • forgiveness, and
  • loyalty. 
"If humour and emotion are the two things that travel the most virally, why is advertising so devoid of it these days?" says Ryan Reynolds from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2022.
Based on the economic challenges facing the world right now, consumers are naturally being pushed back to a place where substance and deep interrogation of a brand's value proposition matter. Customers want to know what they're paying for.

Marketing fluff like badges or catchy images no longer work. Instead, people want substance and a product that prioritises what's really important. Part of the course when it comes to an economic recession is when we take stock of what's real and what's fake. 
Make no mistake though: Establishing authenticity is no quick and easy fix. Building an emotional connection between a brand and the consumer takes substance, time, consistency and, most importantly, a crystal-clear north star. 
Take Volkswagen, which occupied the emotional high ground in South Africa's automotive segment through the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Thanks to a ground-breaking marketing and advertising campaign, VW won the hearts of South African consumers.

VW employees and retailers united and publicly committed to building and servicing people's cars to meet or exceed consumer expectations — the advertising campaigns carried this commitment in an authentic, charming and sincere manner.

As VW discovered, the key was to get the right balance between emotional connection and product intrinsics. It's the reason those elements have started to make a comeback as we begin to see work that centres the product and its benefits in an emotional way that resonates with consumers. 
Financial service is a good example of a space getting it right. Over the past two years, it's become common to hear customers saying they've "kind of fallen in love" with a banking brand — because of how they've been cared for and helped through recent tough times.

This is no coincidence. It comes from these brands claiming the emotional high ground. 
In a segment that is as competitive as the automotive one, the space is wide open for a brand to own the heartland space that VW vacated as it has moved into new and different spaces. Brands well placed to lay claim to this potential segment high ground include:
  • Ford
  • Hyundai
  • Kia, and
  • Toyota.
All have been highly successful in the volume segments of the South Africa passenger and light commercial vehicle market over the past 10-plus years. 
The obvious question is which of these broad-appeal, high-volume brands is going to seize the moment? To lay claim to heartland status in any segment, key prerequisites are volume or share of:
  • market
  • heritage
  • reputation
  • image, and
  • product substance.
A 'johnny-come-lately' brand with superficial offerings will never occupy the segment heartland. In the words of one of the doyennes of advertising, David Ogilvy, "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence."

The holy grail of heartland must be earned. Just as respect must be earned. 
Once a brand has earned the heartland, consumers will be inclined to be forgiving. It will be less beholden to new product rollouts from competitors, or the life cycle factor because its customers are so in love with the brand, they'll wait years for the new model to roll out. 
The opportunity to earn and occupy the vacant heartland exists in many market segments in South Africa. However, the absolute prerequisites are badge, substance and market presence. And to that, you must add the silver bullet: emotional connection.  

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