Connected consumers search, share, and buy products differently than other consumers because they’re always connected to a digital device, be it a smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, laptop, or desktop. Often, connected consumers use multiple devices at the same time. And, every day, more of your consumers join the ranks of connected consumers. But, do you understand the motivations and behaviors of connected consumers enough to have a plan for dealing with them?
What are connected consumers?
Also called Generation C, connected consumers are (according to Brian Solis):
their behavior is noticeably dissimilar to that of their traditional counterparts. The connected customer is the stranger you must get to know as in comparison to the customers of the past, this group is only growing and it’s traversing demographics. As such, the connected customer becomes what we can or should now refer to as Generation C where the “C” represents connectedness.
In his book, The End of Business as Usual, Solis depicts connected consumers as a lifestyle, not a demographic. In fact, Solis contends, and I concur, connected consumers exist in every demographic, although they’re a little skewed toward women and younger consumers.
Rather than developing strategies to capture the elusive Millenial, Solis argues businesses need to understand and satisfy the needs of connected consumers, a group larger and with more buying power than Millenials alone — although a large percentage of Millenials are connected consumers.
And, the power (and number) of connected consumers is expected to grow dramatically. Today’s infant is on Facebook within hours of birth (and even before as parents post sonogram pics). Toddlers master touchscreen technology with surprising ease, making them the most tech-savvy generation yet. We talk about these consumers as digital natives reflecting a digital-first philosophy and today’s Gen Z epitomizes this group, although the group is cross-generational. Again, according to Solis,
Generation N is digital-first and cross-generational, so whether a consumer is 25 or 55, when they use their favorite app or online service, they are going to have similar interests, behaviors, and aspirations.
But, don’t get fooled into thinking connected consumers are all young. Increasing tech usage among all age groups shows that connected consumers are increasingly likely among Baby Boomers whose increased digital footprint shows they are developing digital mastery. Connected consumers represent a global phenomenon, as countries leapfrog into digital technologies — Statista projects that more than 6.5 billion users worldwide in 2022 with a growth of more than a billion projected by 2027 out of a global population (as of Nov. 2022) of 8 billion. Taking into consideration that very young children don’t have their own smartphone (although many use ones owned by a family member), that’s more than one phone for every person over the age of 13.
Multiple devices simultaneously
These consumers are on their mobile devices constantly. They use smartphones, iPads, and laptops to keep up with friends, access music and movies, and fill idle hours while commuting or waiting in the doctor’s office. They even use mobile devices to avoid unpleasant encounters like running into an old boyfriend at the mall with his new girlfriend.
Connected consumers are so plugged in, they watch TV with their smartphone, laptop, or iPad either in their hand or nearby and sleep with their smartphones next to the bed or, in some cases, in bed with them. The situation is so intense that hospitals and doctors report an increasing number of cases of users walking or tripping into hazards (including traffic) that require medical attention. They also report cases of serious burns on users’ legs from the device overheating on their lap without even noticing the heat.
Strategies for Connected Consumers
- You need to think like connected consumers if you want to reach them effectively. Disruptive advertising, whether offline or online, won’t work as they prefer streaming services that are commercial-free or allow them to skip commercials. They get their news from social media, not newspapers; even their music is streamed rather than commercial. They require value and a high signal-to-noise ratio so they quickly skip over your advertising on social media sites and search results.
- They search differently. They want to find things using their mobile device, often using voice-enabled devices that change the nature of their queries. Accommodating these queries that reflect natural language requires you to adapt your keyword strategy toward long-tailed keywords that fit how your target market frames a query using a mobile device. They want to scan images and QR codes to find products. If they see a movie trailer, they want to search local theaters and buy tickets online. They want to get information about products by scanning QR codes on product tags or in-store signage. They want scannable tags to check for the current price of items before adding them to a shopping cart.
- These consumers want fast, ubiquitous high-speed internet access on all their devices. And, they want their devices to talk to each other — integrating seamlessly. They are more interested in connectivity than fancy technologies like 3-D. These consumers want to check Facebook on their TV, they want to shop for items worn by actors in programs, and they want to stream entertainment from the web onto all their devices. They also want to shop with friends both online and in the store by sharing photos with friends to get feedback before making a purchase.
- These consumers love mobile apps as a way of increasing the functionality of their devices. While Zmags found they don’t shop through apps, they love apps to improve customer service — such as banking apps or insurance apps that let consumers conduct business through their mobile devices.
- They’re very value-driven and love discounts. Employing beacons that interface with an app (when enabled by the user) offers the opportunity to provide point-of-sale discounts immediately. For instance, if a user enters the dressing room, you might offer a discount for a purchase made within the next 30 minutes. When a user passes the location where a certain designer or brand sells its products, the brand can entice purchases with discounts, ads, or additional information.
But, is your marketing plan optimized to take advantage of these connected consumers?
Or, is your marketing plan stuck in the age of traditional or even earlier versions of digital marketing? Anecdotally, I’d say many retailers have marketing plans that haven’t entered the digital age. For instance, a conversation on my Facebook wall claims the inability of Ann Taylor to take orders through smartphones and a website that crashed under the traffic from their Cyber Monday sale. Shopping with friends this past Black Friday (2022), we found connectivity varied greatly from store to store. The inability to access internet sites in the store meant we couldn’t check the price or shop for similar products. Sure, some businesses worry that such price comparisons might negatively impact sales but, in our case, we refrained from making a purchase because we couldn’t compare prices (or even determine the current price in the store). Unless you offer something unique, consumers won’t exert much effort to make a purchase if you don’t offer the convenience they seek.
Ok, you ask, how do I update my marketing plan to optimize for connected consumers?
Well, I’m glad you asked!
As with any marketing plan, your digital marketing plan should start by gathering some information, then setting goals, and finally planning strategies to accomplish your goals (use the link to learn more about building a killer marketing plan for any business). So, let’s start by asking some questions directly related to reaching and converting connected consumers.
Marketing plan questions for reaching connected consumers
1. What technology do I need?
Retailers and their marketing departments are still married to the notion of retail stores and don’t put enough planning into their digital marketing plans.
In the case of Ann Taylor, there was probably a bandwidth problem coupled with a website that wasn’t optimized for mobile. But, that’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at it. A more systematic problem is marketing and IT aren’t working together to build marketing strategies for the digital age. Marketing isn’t forecasting demand on the website and communicating that information to IT so they can provide the necessary resources to meet demand.
As mentioned earlier, many consumers use their smartphones while shopping to check prices at other local retailers or online stores. They also want the ability to shop in stores but purchase a product online when the store doesn’t offer the right size or color or when the product is bulky or for delivery as a gift to the recipient.
Providing for consumer needs
Make it easy for connected consumers to interact online by increasing in-store connectivity — especially in malls where stores often have little or no WIFI service. Use QR codes or other devices that make it easy for consumers to find your products online by simply scanning the item and placing an order. QR codes also make it easy for shoppers to get additional product information or share potential purchases with friends on social networks or via texts to get opinions that motivate purchases, as mentioned earlier. But, marketers also need to think outside the box (in this case the store) to predict what connected consumers want from a retailer. Wouldn’t it make more sense to provide WIFI in the store to enable mobile access? And, once you have reliable WIFI access, why have customers standing in line to pay for items? Why not just let them scan the item, then pay using their digital currency such as Apple Pay?
Poof! No more lines and shopping cart abandonment (yes, it happens in real life, too) declines dramatically. Now, instead of standing behind the register to ring up merchandise, store employees are free to help customers find items, suggest additional items, and help in the fitting rooms. Customer satisfaction climbs and so do sales.
2. Use context to deliver on needs
Google uses context — device, location, time — called user intent, to deliver what the consumer needs quickly and efficiently. Retailers should use similar contexts to deliver the right message to the right device at the right time. For instance, on a mobile device, a consumer likely wants a store locator, a map integrated with Google maps, or a phone number to reach the store rather than a traditional e-commerce site. They might also want to view the menu and/ or order online for delivery. On a computer or tablet in a stationary location, they’re likely more interested in a traditional online shopping experience.
3. Integrate across devices
According to Nielsen’s study, consumers want integration across devices. So, when I search for an item on one device, I want to easily transfer it to another device without having to start my search again. Amazon does a great job of this by using my user login to connect everything I do on any device seamlessly. I buy a book and can read it on any device.
When purchasing a new computer for a client, we encountered a serious problem with HP’s mobile site, which didn’t offer customization but required us to use their computer version. Unfortunately, when we opened up the computer site, we had to begin our search all over again.
Don’t limit your integration efforts to communication. Think about integrating fulfillment across devices and sites.
For instance, the ability to return products purchased online to a local retailer is high on the list of priorities for online shoppers who hate having to pack up and return online purchases. Also, allow customers purchasing online to pick up in their local store when they want something quickly.
Make it easy for consumers.
4. Make the most of your app
Getting consumers to download your app is increasingly difficult because there are so many competing apps and many offer little value. Consumers commonly have around 40 apps on their phones and use about 9 of them (commonly social media, banking, and gaming) routinely. They don’t want to slow down their phones with unnecessary apps and many manufacturers install an app that automatically deletes apps you don’t use.
Providing value is important for app downloads. For instance, you might allow access to online shopping, coupons, and special discounts to those using your app. McDonald’s offers a free burger when you download the app and discounts to encourage visits. Macy’s recently added coupons to their app to reduce frustration by shoppers who didn’t have the paper coupon.
Yet, you shouldn’t force consumers to download your app as the only way to interact with you. I recently purchased donuts from Dunkin for a presentation my students gave. The only way to order online was through the app. If I had the time to explore the competition, I would have ordered from them versus downloading an app I’m unlikely to use many times.
5. Find customer pain
In a way, a marketing plan is like a physician — constantly asking customers where they hurt. For instance, I hate the grocery store but it’s a necessary evil.
So, why do I hate shopping in the grocery store? The aisles are crowded with stuff that wouldn’t fit on the shelves, I can’t find the stuff I want and I hate lugging things out of my shopping cart to the register, then back into the shopping cart in bags, then hauling it out to my car. The stuff is heavy (especially dog food and cleaning supplies) and I have to rearrange things to ensure I don’t crush the bread or break the eggs.
A marketing plan for a connected consumer might allow me to shop aisles full of information, rather than products either online or off. I can use my smartphone to scan bar codes for the items I want or wander the aisles online just as I do in a physical store to ensure I don’t forget items I need. I then download my information at the checkout or simply use digital currency to pay for my items.I enjoy a cup of coffee while my items are being picked then pull around to have my groceries loaded into my car or return at a designated time to pick up my items. Easy, simple, painless. If anything good came from Covid, it’s the ease of curbside pickup.
And, while the grocer now needs to pay people to pick the merchandise, they no longer have to pay for them to stock the shelves. Grocers replace high-priced retail space (since they’re not displaying items in the store, just a picture of the package) with cheap warehouse space. No more shoplifting — there’s nothing in the store to steal. Much less breakage, fewer items passing their expiration dates, and less frequent stock-out, as warehouse workers now control inventory. And, I might even buy more as my cart never gets too full to add more items (plus, perceptually, I’m likely to buy more when I don’t see a mountain of stuff already in my cart).
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