Welcome to the Gadget Era

Right now, how many different devices do you have in your possession that can take a picture? How many things do you have to plug in at night? How many different ways could you listen to music or watch a movie? If you don’t know exactly where on the planet you are, do you have a way of immediately finding out?

That number, for most people is slowly creeping up, as the number of gadgets that we tend to own and have with us on an ongoing basis increases. I’m not much of a gadget guy myself, but here, while I write this, I have two ways to take a picture, two ways to automatically figure out where I am, and one way to take a video and post it immediately up to Facebook or YouTube.

We have entered the Gadget Era — a state where consumers, by and large, have on them at all times a number of fairly sophisticated technical devices, many of which are able to communicate with one another or, really, any computer over the Internet. This is a truly unique moment that was driven by three macrotrends.

First is the extremely rapid drop in the price of digital storage; the other macrotrend was the concurrent rapid rise in the processing power of a microchip. Put together, these two major market shifts pushed computer technology in two distinct directions. The first is into our pockets, creating this proliferation of gadgets. The other is into data centers, where the ability to use hugely powerful clustered computers is enhanced by the third macrotrend, the availability of fast data transfers.

The result is that we have small devices that are capable of delivering significant power, connected to a nearly infinite number of powerful devices. And we can get ourselves into this marketplace, as a consumer, generally for about a hundred bucks.

The Gadget Era Shifts “Online”

The real effect of the Gadget Era is that we need to rethink and reconsider what we mean when we talk about reaching consumers online, because, truly, the definition of being online has changed.

In the past, we would create digital marketing strategies that began with the assumption that we were reaching people who were not only in the target market, but also owned a computer and used the Internet. Now, we see an increasing number of consumers who don’t own a computer and access the Internet strictly through their smartphone.

As well, we would watch for trends and spikes in online time. We knew, for example, that people tended to visit our client’s brand sites during lunchtime. That’s not necessarily true anymore. People in the Gadget Era use their devices to grab information and interact all the time, often in small slices of seconds while waiting for something else to happen.

This means that we can’t count on a gap in time between when a person sees something that is of interest and takes an action on it. The time gap between wanting and getting is collapsing, and consumers in the Gadget Era want to use their technological abilities, and they want to use them�¢ï¿½�¦now!

Marketing in the Gadget Era

In many ways, marketing to consumers in the Gadget Era is similar to the marketing that we’ve always done, only faster and more frequently. That is, we can no longer expect that consumers are going to see something, remember it, go home, and look up more information. But there are some other fundamental ways that marketers can begin to think about how they should create communications plans that address this shift in consumer behavior.

Right now, there are at least five things you can do to ensure that consumers find and interact with your brand in this new digital environment:

Develop an app. Few things are as hyped up as applications for the latest generation of smartphones. The fact is, however, that apps remain the primary way that users engage with content through these devices. If you can develop an application that directly ties to your brand, and is useful, you get the opportunity to stay with the consumer as they move through their world.

Think tablets and pads.The next device that people will clamor for looks to be the tablet. Amazon is an early leader with the Kindle, but other manufacturers are quickly closing in. What are these things exactly? They will be connected to the Internet, either through the cell network or WiFi, but have fairly large screens. They represent an opportunity for consumers to have fairly rich, highly mobile interactions. Begin to experiment with what you might be able to do with a small, light, 17-inch screen that someone has with them, anywhere.

Make it all social.Mobile technology, the Gadget Era, and social networking are all heading toward a single point of convergence. Nearly every new gadget has some social network technology built into it, as though the entire point of having a gadget is to use it to share information with others. Whenever creating something for consumers to engage with on a gadget, make sure that it can be shared.

Explore new calls-to-action. This may be the most compelling concept and element of the Gadget Era, at least to marketers. We are now faced with a plethora of options for inviting consumers to take actions. For example, a small number of brands have begun to experiment with placing coded images on outdoor posters. Consumers can take a picture with their cell phone; the coded image is actually a command that launches the phone’s browser and loads up a particular page. Other companies have experimented with augmented reality, another way that consumers can use their phones to get more information and deeper interactions through their gadgets.

The world of technology and marketing has never been static. The introduction of gadgets into the media mix is certainly just one more step on a very fast moving escalator. The bottom line and best advice in all of this is, of course, to explore the technology, but never to let it overtake your focus on a clear strategy and a compelling message.

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