Both the way consumers interact with brands and those consumers’ expectations about how companies should respond to those interactions have undergone seismic shifts.
The recent rise in mobile capabilities—in particular, smartphones and tablets in the past six or seven years—has led to the emergence of the empowered, always-on consumer. And in this new, consumer-oriented environment, reaching out to and interacting with consumers have become more-complex endeavors for companies. That’s why brand marketers have to learn to become continuously relevant and responsive to the needs and desires of connected customers.
According to Internet technology company comScore, multiplatform users (i.e., people who use both mobile and desktop devices) account for 56% of digital media consumers. And the smartphone has emerged as the primary content channel for Internet consumption, thanks to the convenience and constant accessibility of high-quality Internet access available within arm’s reach. In addition, in 2013, digital marketing research firm eMarketer reported that the average adult spends more than 5 hours a day online, with an average of 2 hours 21 minutes a day on nonvoice mobile activities, including mobile Internet usage on phones and tablets. Reaching that multiplatform majority requires both a new approach to messaging across touch points and a measurement strategy that can wield these new, always on-consumers.
In the past, the focus was typically on the right message to the right person at the right time.
Today companies deliver a personalized message to an engaged consumer that leads to a rewarding experience. In this consumer-centric model, a marketer’s goal is to build brand affinity across device platforms so as to bolster the customer relationship. Engagement with consumers must be intuitive and easy, say PwC analysts, who add that self-service options and cross-channel transparency will gain customer advocates—and market share. Companies must therefore improve that connection through what Forrester Research analysts describe as the building of interactions that:
- maintain continuity of memory (i.e., have the relevant information conveyed by customers across channels) and
- maintain experience—meaning, the context is maintained across channels (e.g., shopping carts remain available regardless of the device in use).
Cross-channel advertising messages must also be optimized for engagement that serves to build brand affinity. Marketing strategies built on the consumer-centric model require deep understanding of the always-on consumer in order to drive messaging that resonates across multiple touch points. The measurement strategy can be built once milestones in the consumer journey are recognized as key performance indicators in the new paradigm.
Connecting on Consumers’ Terms
Consumers live at the integration of digital and physical, and mobile is credited as the enabler, or bridge, for that integration. Access to such a plethora of media changes the consumer/brand dynamic, with today’s consumer having more control and voice than ever. Emily Collins, analyst at Forrester Research, says empowered customers want control over how they interact with brands, and they have high expectations with regard to how companies interact with them—including their demands for instant feedback. How brands inspire that loyalty is the key to those brands’ success.
To expand on the shopping experience, which is a nonlinear path, consumers may use different devices on the path to purchase. The devices might be in the physical store or online or on an app. Early online retailing was all about bringing the physical store to the Web, whereas nowadays, the more practical use of mobile is to bring the Web experience into the store. As an example of a marketer’s embracing of that transformation, Walmart conducted research on its consumers who owned smartphones. The retailer learned that 50% of smartphone users have used their devices while in Walmart to assist them in their shopping decisions. Furthermore, 49% of those users compared prices, 66% researched products, and 35% checked reviews. Through data mining, Walmart also found that baby-goods shopping involves desktop research and in-store pickup; that apparel shopping involves largely browsing on a tablet for inspiration—and an in-store visit for fit; and that for electronics shopping, consumers conduct deep product research, compare prices, and read reviews. Walmart uses all of that data to serve consumers best where they are and to understand consumers’ shopping patterns.
Retailers have blazed the trail in terms of consumer insights and building connections and relationships to drive brand preference, but all consumer-facing industries need to improve their customer relationship management. Other industries can look to the retail industry to assess techniques and best practices, but they must adapt to the realities of a brand’s business model to best serve the always-on consumer. In Australia, for example, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has developed a smartphone app that significantly enhances the home-buying experience, according to a McKinsey report. When a prospective buyer takes a photo of a prospective house, the app uses image-recognition-software and geographic-location technologies to identify the house, including all details related to the sale. Then the buyer’s financial details get connected to the other technologies through the lender’s database in order to determine whether the buyer can be preapproved for a mortgage. Such interactions dramatically cut down on the multiple interactions that would otherwise be needed to reach that point in a real estate transaction.
Walmart and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are two examples of marketers that have effectively taken action on insights gained from their multiplatform consumers, the new consumer journey, and the technology that enables engagement. The keys to success in building deep brand affinity and thriving customer relationships are to
- recognize always-on consumers by the bread crumbs they leave behind,
- listen to their wants by the actions they take, and
- develop new experiences based on their preferences.