Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
June 6, 201110:49 PM

The Ever-Evolving Consumer Evolves (Again)

Does Marketing and Communications change fast enough to keep pace with consumers?

It's becoming more difficult and brands are falling behind (in short, no... Marketing is not keeping pace). We need to face one cold, hard truth (and then figure out what to do about it): this is the first time in our civilization where consumers are more advanced (in terms of both technology and how they are communicating) than the Marketers. Prior to all of this connectivity (and yes, Social Media plays a big role in this development), Marketers led the way by creating and producing messages that no individual consumer could have ever conjured up, but things have changed.

The completely untethered consumer is doing things we never really imagined.

Go back ten years and ask yourself if you ever thought that individuals would engage and talk about brands the way they do today. I'm not talking about "liking" them on Facebook or tweeting on Twitter about a customer service issue: I'm talking about ratings and reviews. If you look at companies like Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews and dig beneath the surface of their data, the sheer volume of consumer reviews being created is staggering (Bazaarvoice claims to have served over 150 billion impressions of consumer reviews), but the evolution (or is this a revolution?) soldiers on. Just as brands were getting semi-used to engaging with consumers in the online channels, how are things going to change when consumers bring this added perspective right down to the retail level.

Mobile connectivity just changed everything (again).

The news item, Consumer use of mobile to access retail content jumped significantly: Study, caught my attention. Here's the macro piece of data that should drop your jaw to the floor: "The number of consumers accessing content from retailers via their mobile devices in the past year increased a dramatic 74 percent for a total 13 million, according to a new report from ad network Millennial Media." Yup, this is what happens when everyone is connected: now if you're not sure about something you're about to buy while you're in the store, you can "phone a friend" (to steal a turn of phrase from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?). Not only can consumer's research general information - right then and there - but you can poll your social graph to see if whatever it is that you're looking buy is the right decision for you.

You may not be surprised that people are doing this, but trust me, retailers have close-to-zero clue how to deal with this.

Think about it this way: if you have a problem with a brand, the majority of us tend to go home and tweet, Blog or Facebook about our issues to the world, in hopes that the brands are monitoring those frequencies and will respond because they have been publicly outed. Now, consumers can do it live and in the store. This cuts down the response time afforded most brands and moves retail into the real-time Web (probably kicking and screaming). Take a look at some of your favorite retailers and compare their online experience (websites, microsites, email newsletters, etc...) to what they're doing in the mobile realm (mobile-friendly website, apps, txt, QR codes, etc...). Most brands are not at an optimal level of performance. The challenge is not that the Web strategy has had more time to marinate or that the mobile strategy still needs some work. The true challenge lies in looking at it from the consumer's perspective... the connected consumer's perspective... the untethered consumer's perspective....

Do you think Marketers will ever be able to get ahead of this?

By Mitch Joel

Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Joe Murray
    Mitch Joel

    I think Digital Signage will help retailers catch up. By posting panels in the aisles with live, actual, user reviews we'll begin to see some of this "phoning a friend" proactively offered by the retailer.

    But then it comes back to credibility. Consumers trust their friends more, right?

    And aren't retailers continuously adjusting their product mix and offerings based on real time ordering, trending and consumer feedback anyway. How much more info do we need. Or is it all just a game? A way to justify our purchases?

    My 2¢ worth, for only 1.25¢ with a Groupon.

  • We're in that awkward position of experts vs. the group.

    We're seeing the rise of 'the group', whether it be social media, referendums or polls (think American Idol®). Experts have been around for a while. As a creative director I'd like to think that experts have something to say - I'd even point you to 'Blink' by M. Gladwell.

    One of my many issues with 'the crowd' is that they don;t have all of the factors when making choices of decisions.

    That said there can be some great benefits/actions that come out of listening to the crowd - as long as it's filtered back through the experts.

  • Posted by Tobias Bray
    Mitch Joel

    Many marketers (and sales people) see consumers as a transaction and there lies the rub. Ask any retail sales person if they are being told to sell something in particular this week and the answer will be "Of course". Where is the trust in that equation? So while consumers turn to reviews, why would they trust the outlet's site when the sales person has already damaged the brand's trust factor?

    The front ends of too many companies have become measurement machines attempting to forecast everything from the quality of a lead to likely number of conversions. The problem here? The buyer is not represented in any of this data - it's all about the company itself. And in solution and complex sales, it is creating a culture of mistrust while sales people dial for dollars rather than develop needs.

    So if my internal operational supply-chain values data over the customer, what kind of culture do I have? In a connected world, one where the brand gets outed by its culture. Sure, they can give money to starving children in some far away place, but in a connected world, we call that old fashioned PR.

  • Posted by Chris Book
    Mitch Joel


    One of the big contributors to this, obviously, is that the technology side of the industry is so consumer focused. Marketers - and producers of the technology they use - need to get their act together. They can't afford to not be connected or to have the tools that allow them to fully capitalize on the way that consumers are creating content and attempting to interact with the brand.

    This goes way beyond the capabilities of what Facebook and Twitter can do for businesses. Take customer service for example. The progression of this is rooted in the ability for businesses to identify if and when customers are in their store - then taking the next step toward interaction and engagement. Using technology to better in-person interactions is so key for businesses with a brick and mortar presence.

    With this consumer technology focus, we've seen the creation of empowered consumers. But the miss is that while they have a forum, they still haven't gained any ground in truly shaping their experiences while in a store, etc.

    Producing technology that combines the ability for brands to react and consumers to morph their interactions with brands in a truly real-time setting isn't the only hurdle though. It's a paradigm shift within these stores that's difficult for some to grasp because there's not immediate lift in ROI. Training employes on how to monitor and react to feedback, and then empowering them so that they can immediately remedy or enhance a situation without having to jump through organizational hoops for approval - the same shift that has been preached throughout the social media boom - is a key to adoption of these technologies.

    Once that happens, the businesses will be able to get ahead of this.

  • Posted by Megann Willson
    Mitch Joel

    In the age of mass marketing, marketers were successful at separating consumers from their traditional information sources: trust networks and guides. Technology has simply restored an equilibrium. Now instead of trying to tell customers they're worthy of that trust, brands must prove that they really are worthy.

  • Posted by Hazel Nieves
    Mitch Joel

    A lot of good responses here but I think what Tobias Bray said hits it right between the eyes!

    Marketers are going to have to help companies understand they will continue to slip in the hearts of their "target customer" or that disgusting reference used of "consumers" if they are not willing to lose the 'old model' approach of doing business within their industry and began to embrace what I call co-business approaches where the customer is encouraged to partner with companies.

    Of course, this concept scares the crap out many CEO's and shareholders because it clearly takes them out of the role of being in control and could provide a scary ride for them. Truth is though...the 'untethered consumer' IS the one in control NOW whether business wants to admit it or not.

  • Posted by Ben Hall
    Mitch Joel

    Today in Australia, News Corp just announced that it is going back to a pay for services on it's major Newspaper sites. They are betting that with enough marketing, they can convince enough people that paying for their online newspapers will make the model sustainable.

    And yesterday McDonalds said that they have just retrained their baristas and made their coffee blend "stronger" (don't even know what that means) and will do their biggest media buy in years to drive the new message home that they now have good coffee...

    So I would argue that business is deliberately selecting to stay behind their consumers because they would not know what to do if they got out in front of them...

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