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Seven Digital Consumer Trends, Part 2

  |  August 1, 2005   |  Comments

Seven ways digital technology affects consumers and how marketers must adapt. Second of a two-part series.

Last time, I outlined how digital technology adoption empowers consumers. Consumers spend more time both online, thanks in part to growing broadband adoption, and with mobile handsets, facilitated by growing telephony functionality and capacity. They're becoming better informed, better connected, more communicative, and more in control than ever.

They're better informed through the increased ability to access and sift an abundance of information anytime, anywhere. They're better connected through the ability to instantaneously communicate with others across time zones and social strata. They're more communicative through the ability to publish and share their ideas and opinions. They're more in control through the ability not only to personalize their information and entertainment consumption, marketing messages, and the products and services they buy, but also to gain satisfaction on demand.

As this evolution continues, marketers are faced with a growing number of challenges to acquire, satisfy, and keep their target customers. They must rethink their approach to brand communications.

Digitally empowered consumers are harder to find, attract, and please. With ever-growing content options, audiences are disaggregating. As they collect in smaller groups around a wider range of specialist content, media selection scope and diversity expand and, with it, media plan complexity.

Audiences filter through the abundance of available information, seeking personally relevant content. They're less tolerant of intrusive, irrelevant advertising and increasingly willing to adopt technologies that switch messages on or off at will. Marketers must target messages smarter if they wish to captivate these elusive consumers and request permission to have a dialogue with them.

Individuals spend more time congregated in their virtual communities, interconnected with peers, consuming a growing volume of informal, user-generated digital content (e.g., blogs). They're becoming more influenced by other consumers' feedback and reviews and are less persuaded by sales-driven advertising. Marketers must find clever ways to infiltrate and influence online posters if they wish to spread positive brand messages among their desired audiences. The growing interest and experimentation with viral marketing is witness to this.

When digitally empowered consumers consent to a brand interaction, they're tough to satisfy. They'll ask more questions; demand broader, deeper product information; and expect more personalized service. If they aren't satisfied with one provider, they can easily switch to another. With such access to choice and comparative competitor information, they'll soon move on. They'll expect to be engaged and entertained. Marketers who don't deliver compelling, captivating brand experiences won't gain these consumers' attention for long.

Growing more habituated to media interaction, consumers will have higher expectations of having their needs fulfilled whenever, however, and wherever they like. Marketers must be more responsive and reactive to audience dictates; develop more tailored, customizable solutions to meet individuals' needs; and create flexible organizations that can handle customers consistently and comprehensively across multiple channels.

To win over and build closer relationships with this new consumer breed, marketers must shift media spend to more interactive, online channels. More important, they must fundamentally shift their strategic thinking. As consumers become more active participants and less passive recipients, the top-down approach to mass broadcast communications will no longer work. Marketers must embrace a more bottom-up approach to marketing, centered around communicating with their audience on a more equal basis. They'll need to use incentives and facilitate consumer participation in marketing activities and drop the sermon act.

Invite your audience to participate in your campaigns. Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" is a good example. Online plays a central role in the integrated campaign, and the female target audience is exhorted to "join the debate." The buzz this campaign has generated goes way beyond the media purchased.

Allow consumers to co-create. Sony Playstation's Freedom campaign has competition entrants posting vlogs (define) on a weekly basis and encourages site visitors to vote for their favorite. The campaign's generating a great buzz and interest and creating exponential branding return on investment (ROI).

Where possible, enable and facilitate connections among your audience. Offering a platform for discussion around a brand, product, or service (e.g., GM's FastLane Blog) demonstrates an openness and willingness to debate. Digitally empowered consumers are likely to embrace such a demonstration.

Finally, hand control over to consumers wherever possible. Be prepared to deal with their multitude of needs and offer as close to instant gratification as your organization allows.

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Julian Smith

Julian Smith conducts research and analysis on the European interactive marketing and advertising arena as an analyst with Jupiter Research, which shares a parent company with ClickZ.

His areas of expertise cover all aspects of the online advertising industry, e-mail marketing, mobile (SMS/MMS) marketing, search engine marketing, eCRM, online branding and Web site design. His particular area of interest is in the use of digital media for the acquisition, retention and development of customers.

Prior to joining Jupiter Research, Julian spent over six years working in a variety of interactive marketing agencies in London. These included Razorfish, Euro RSCG Interaction and TBWA/GGT where he worked in strategy and client service roles helping develop online solutions for leading blue chip clients. Most recently he assisted in the integrated marketing launch of 3, the new 3G video mobile phone, one of the largest new product launches in the UK in 2003.

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