What the Connected Consumer Wants
The “Connected Consumer” isn’t an imaginary person, but a term that fairly accurately describes what the individual, digitally engaged consumer has come to expect from brands today. Consumers are more used to digital channels, connected devices and adopting new technologies on a daily basis. They also constantly connect with one another in real time through tools like messaging apps. All of this is changing how consumers act and make decisions in ways that you won’t find in any marketing textbook from decades past.
Whether it’s Facebook, Google, Instagram, Netflix, other digital and social services, Amazon or direct-to-consumer companies (the list goes on), B2C brands face increased competition every day to exceed the expectations this connected consumer is so excitedly looking to fulfill. Traditional B2C brands have plenty of opportunities to do this, and can actually engage, convert and sell more to these consumers than they ever have before.
From the consumer perspective, we’ve grown accustomed to always being connected, and the more we connect, the more we expect brands to do the same. These interactions started small, but they have compounded to the point where they define our everyday experiences. Brands need to understand these compounding effects to adapt to these modern expectations, find ways to be “always-on”, increase personalization while respecting privacy, and anticipate how the connected consumer’s expectations will continue to change in the future.
Connected Consumers Expect a Better Experience Than Ever Before
According to Salesforce, 64% of consumers say their standard for good experiences are higher than ever, and 79% of them say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. By varying majorities, consumers also expect companies to understand their needs and expectations, and they believe that most companies are falling short of their desire for great experiences.
Today, the customer experience is second-to-none in terms of importance. It is one of the primary components of a brand’s offering. Direct-to-consumer brands and other trends that were previously novelties are now entirely mainstream. While they may have started small, they now set the standard of experience (digital responsiveness, personalized messages, customizable offers, always-on support) that traditional brands are scrambling to live up to.
Twenty years ago, before any of this had come to pass, flyers, emails, phone calls and voicemails were the main ways that brands could interact with consumers, and these were often personalized on a name basis only. Now, consumers can take control of their experiences – mostly through digital and mobile commerce. Third-party websites, customer reviews, ecommerce websites, SMS messaging, social media and social messaging applications – these were on the fringes of the brand-consumer relationship two decades ago. Now, the convenience, simplicity and instant gratification they provide is what the connected consumer is looking for.
By the same token, technologies like CRM have long been essential to consumer-facing brands, but systems of record are no longer enough. Marketers know they need a CRM, but without email, marketing automation, social media and community management, messaging solutions and a deep stake in the customer experience after a sale is made, they’re basically up against a tank or a jet fighter while trying to use a bow and arrow (point being: it doesn’t end well).
Connected Consumers Want Brands That “Expect to Connect”
If you don’t feel like this is the case for you – whether as a consumer, marketer or brand manager – you have to realize that these changes have compounded over time. The “compounding principle” is essential to consider here, and it’s the type of thing that Peter Thiel, for examples, attributes to the initial growth of PayPal.
By creating a service that allowed users to send money through email, the service became more useful as more people signed up for it, continually feeding back on itself until the service grew so large that consumers would expect the same ease of use no matter how they transferred money. With today’s connected consumer, we can see that that sort compounding change has taken root in every part of the economy, and traditional brands need master new approaches in response.
That’s why consumers now want to interact with brands that expect to connect personally with them. Among more gems from Salesforce, 74% of consumers say it is easier than ever to “take their business elsewhere”. Consumers are increasingly willing to make decisions based on the quality of the experience they receive, share those experiences and even pay more or switch to competitors for better experiences.
Consumers also now expect product comparisons, seamless transitions between channels, mobile accessibility, recommendations, real-time messaging, self-service tools, proactive customer service and more. All of these specific expectations add up to a customer experience that is proactive, personalized, instant and available 24/7/365. Brands rarely have the resources to fully satisfy every one of these needs, and need to look to new technology – automated solutions in particular – in order to meet them.
Today’s connected consumer is looking for instant gratification, but looking for it on the back of existing messaging, content and communication channels. While this shouldn’t be so hard for brands to adapt to, understanding both the degree and nuance with which consumers are starting to expect one-to-one connectedness with brands can illustrate both which technologies are important to deploy, and why deploying them the right way and before they reach critical mass, is essential to business success.
The Right Technology Can Balance Personalization and Privacy
Since so much cynicism has arisen about the same huge tech companies that helped create this connected consumer, brands can’t just venture into digital services “willy-nilly”. Thirty-six percent of consumers think brands are asking for too much data, while data breaches, irrelevant or inaccurate marketing messages, confusing privacy policies and creepy advertising all increase distrust in brands. Connected consumers don’t necessarily want brands to connect with them outside of their “comfort zone”, the downsides of which can be far greater than the benefits.
The benefits of more data are both essential to stay competitive and hard to resist, but finding the right way to collect and use data – in a seamless and real-time way – is the best way to reach connected consumers without putting them off. Salesforce shares more data that demonstrates this: 76% of consumers are willing to share data that allows for consistent interactions across every channel, 86% are willing to share data specifically for personalized offers and discounts, and similar proportions want personalized, connected experiences across devices and locations, online and off.
These are, again, specific expectations that consumers have, but they are only willing to share data if they feel it will help satisfy their wants. The days of collecting any possible data you can and trying to “guesstimate” a campaign that will increase sales are long gone. Now you need to collect it directly from them, be clear on why you’re collecting it, and do this in real-time if possible to maximize the satisfaction consumers get out of the experience. Don’t worry, these connected consumers are savvy, if you have to take the time to explain your reasoning to them, they’ll appreciate you more for it as a result.
Engaging with consumers through solutions like conversational AI is one simple step to providing this. When consumers are asked for specific information and instantly receive a relevant recommendation based on it, it’s not only easy to see the value of sharing that kind of data, but also to better appreciate what a brand is offering. This kind of process can increase engagement and sales, and when connected throughout a brand’s customer-facing channels, creates a unified experience that compounds benefits and results.
How to Adapt to Changes in the Connected Consumer
Five or 10 years ago, if you had known that consumers would spend all their time looking at their phone or be able to shop 24/7/365, you might’ve been giddy at the prospect. However, it’s not a handful of marketers who are taking advantage of this opportunity today – every marketer and brand faces stiff competition for this 24/7 attention from consumers. What kind of solutions can really promise to engage them in a way that keeps them from taking their business somewhere else?
Well, today, messaging channels are seeing that same compounding growth rate that social media, streaming and ecommerce platforms so in their years of prime expansion. Fortunately, Conversational AI, through both chatbots and voice assistants, are positioning to automate the large scale of interactions major brands need to connect with their consumers.
These preferred channels, whether its Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct, Whatsapp, SMS or elsewhere, are the best way to get and maintain the connected consumer’s attention in the years to come, and you can even use the same messaging experiences to make your ads better. They can provide the quick, easy informative experiences consumers need, all before a product is even purchased (check out the example below). Of course, consumers will always appreciate any solution that delights them, but if you’re going to start somewhere, you might as well start with the channels that get you the best results.