In our annual Bynder x OnBrand State of Branding Report, we got inside the heads of marketing and branding experts to discover their biggest challenges and opportunities for the year, what’s at the top of their to-do lists, and how they’re leveraging the latest industry trends to attract—and retain—customers.

This year, we put their insights to the test, going directly to the source: consumers.

In March, we conducted an online survey via SurveyMonkey of over 1,000 US citizens aged 18-100 to get their consumer perspective on what matters most to them when interacting with brands, and determine what strategies are most effective for capturing their attention.

While most consumers believe brands are meeting their needs, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Here’s what consumers had to say.

Cutting through the noise in a crowded digital landscape

Before a brand can truly connect with consumers, it obviously has to grab their attention. Amid unprecedented competition, breaking through the noise is a greater challenge than ever. Most consumers today engage with just 1-9 brands a week (68%), while 23% interact with 10-19, and less than 10% engage with more than that.

For companies looking to be one of the select few, a superior product (30%) is the best way to stand out among consumers, followed closely by excellent customer service (28%).

For companies looking to break through to dissatisfied consumers, a different strategy may be in order. While most consumers report that brands are meeting their needs (58%), 23% report dissatisfaction, and 19% are unsure.

For brands looking to win over these unhappy consumers, community involvement may be the answer. While not particularly important to satisfied customers (9%), consumers who say their needs aren’t being met are almost twice as likely to identify community involvement as a priority (16%). However, both groups agree a superior product is the most important deliverable.

Pissing people off

In addition to offering value where it matters most to consumers, brands need to focus on the right forms of engagement to break through the noise. Consumers prioritize visual engagement (59%) over any other form of engagement, including interactive (17%), conversational (12%) and long-form (10%).

Among certain groups, this preference is even more pronounced—for example, 71% of those who prefer to engage on social media believe visual engagement is the most impactful.

But it’s not just about breaking through the noise with the right priorities and forms of engagement—even the most attention-grabbing strategies fall flat if they don’t translate to business results.

Long-form content, like blogs and articles, aren’t considered the most engaging among consumers, but they are the most influential for getting them to try a new product or service (28%), followed by social media (23%) and online advertising (17%).

Better to be convenient and consistent than cutting-edge

In today’s rapidly evolving tech world, brands feel tremendous pressure to implement the latest cutting-edge technology—but this urgency isn’t driven by consumers. Though flashy technologies like AR and VR are shiny novelties, consumers typically prioritize more traditional technologies that boost convenience.

Both mobile technologies (46%) and customer service technologies (26%) are valued more by consumers than immersive technologies (24%). In fact, emerging technology is the least popular channel for interacting with brands (4%), behind social media (38%), company website (18%), mobile applications (16%) and content channels (13%).

In fact, implementing cutting-edge technology can do more harm than good if it doesn’t make sense for the brand; in the eyes of consumers, the biggest mistake companies can make with new technology is compromising brand consistency.

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Consumers are particularly bothered when companies launch technology that doesn’t make sense for their brand (27%), create an inconsistent look and feel of content (26%) and implement irrelevant technology without enough investment (26%), but they’re far less concerned about brands falling behind their competitors (17%).

Rather than acting just to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important for companies to evaluate what technology makes sense for their personal brand identity, and think critically about how to maintain consistency and reliability for their customers.

Personalization may not be as important as marketers think it is

Though personalization has become a hot topic for marketers, consumers aren’t as hung up on it. In fact, only 5% believe content personalization is the best way for brands to stand out. And when consumers do care about personalization, it’s ease and convenience (53%) that matter to them, far more than product customization (26%), packaging customization (11%) or customized digital experiences (8%).

That said, it’s not a good idea for brands to completely disregard customized experiences. When it comes to branded online content, personalization-related mistakes account for two of consumers’ greatest pet peeves: being served irrelevant content (41%) and being inundated with the same content from multiple companies (34%).

Brands need to strike a strategic balance when it comes to personalization, maintaining enough customization to keep consumers satisfied while understanding that it’s not the holy grail for winning them over.

As branding and marketing professionals balance more demands—and more opportunities— than ever before, it’s critical to be strategic about priorities. While it’s tempting to buy into the latest trends to stay ahead of the curve and outpace competitors, brands can better maximize their time and investment by focusing on what their customers value.

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