Seven Digital Consumer Trends, Part 1

As an online marketing analyst, when not writing a report or column, I spend most of my time answering client inquiries on how best to implement Internet-based strategies for customer acquisition and retention and efficiently manage return on investment (ROI) optimization tactics. Occasionally, I’m asked broader, big-picture questions: What’s the future of marketing? How will we be advertising to consumers in five years or more?

My response to this type of inquiry is to consider the effect digital technology is having on the growing proportion of consumers who adopt it, particularly regarding their media consumption and how this may affect marketing in specific industry sectors. By analyzing and assessing digital consumer trends, one can identify potential marketing opportunities and threats these present to different business arenas. Doing this helps reduce clients’ anxieties. They can then begin to formulate strategies to embrace the opportunities and mitigate the threats.

In this column, I’ll outline some key digital technology effects on consumers all marketers should be aware of. In part two, I’ll consider what this means for marketing moving forward.

At Jupiter Research, we’ve identified seven emerging trends:

  • Individuals’ interconnectivity is increasing. The adoption of networked digital technology enables consumers to more easily and rapidly connect with each other, wherever and whenever, whether through email, IM, mobile messaging, or platforms such as eBay, Friends Reunited, and LinkedIn. Consumers increasingly connect, reconnect, trade, and share with likeminded people across time zones and geography. And they’re doing so more quickly, more widely, more frequently, and in more volume than ever before. The spread of peer-to-peer communications and content extends and reinforces social networks and builds new virtual “communities.”
  • The information playing field is being leveled. Digital technology increases the ease and speed of content creation, access, and consumption. As a result, consumers are better informed and information is democratized. A growing percentage of consumers now instantly access a wider breadth and depth of news, opinion, and competitive company information. They conduct unbiased research to compare and contrast products and services. With more information comes more knowledge, and with more knowledge comes more power to the consumer.
  • Relevance filtering is growing. Digital content’s fecundity and its growing abundance create a growing need for information management and relevance filtering as consumer struggle to find exactly what they want, when they want it. Consumers are spending more time searching for relevant information (a boon to search providers) and increasingly seek to have information aggregated and delivered (whether via email or RSS feeds). They block out irrelevant information with personalization, and unwanted or unsolicited commercial messages with ad- and email-blocking technology. Consumers need help managing digital information to avoid digital obesity.
  • Niche aggregation is growing. Online content’s abundance and diversity enables consumers to more easily participate and indulge in specialist interests and hobbies. They gather in niche communities of likeminded individuals, which results in homogeneous mass consumers fragmenting into an increasingly complex individuality. You need only to look at the Group areas of eBay’s Community section for evidence.
  • Micropublished self-expression is blossoming. Digital media’s open-source, interactive, interconnected nature enables consumers to increasingly express themselves in writing and create their own content, whether through discussion forums, message boards, feedback forms, voting platforms, personal photo galleries, or blogs. Growth of consumer-generated media allows consumers to look to their social networks for opinion, which leads to a personalization of authority. How often do we check an online consumer review before booking a table at an unknown restaurant?
  • The “prosumer” is rising. Online media’s unique characteristics enable consumers to become increasingly involved in the creation of the products and services they purchase, shifting the balance of power from producer to consumer. Individuals are more involved in specifying, creating, and customizing their purchases to their requirements, as well as shaping their experiences and the communications they receive. Traditional mass-production and mass-marketing concepts are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
  • It’s on-demand everything, everywhere. Growing digital technology ubiquity and the corresponding acceleration of business practices allow consumers to satisfy their needs faster, more easily, and with fewer barriers. Before, consumer purchases were restricted by time, geography, location, and physical store space. In the digital economy, buying is unlimited by these constrictions. Delivery trading allows near-instant gratification.

Digital and online technology play an ever-greater, more central role in modern consumers’ lives. Businesses can’t afford to ignore these developments. In part two, I’ll look at how marketers must address increasingly empowered, in-control digital consumers in the future.

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