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These guys get me: marketing to the empowered consumer

“There was music in the cafés at night, and revolution in the air.” Bob Dylan, Tangled up in Blue

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There’s an uneasy feeling in boardrooms, design meetings and industry confabs. Something is afoot, something few are bold enough to name – a suspicion of irreversible change and a resetting of the prevailing order.

Increasingly technology-hungry consumers are creating personal digital “constellations” of products and services, and, tied in with that, ecosystems of people (e.g. a messaging community, device user enclave or social media set) and business entities (vendors and service providers).

In doing so, they’ve taken charge of what they’re prepared to consume. This is not the beginning of a trend, but it is manifest at a scale not seen before. For the first time we are moving away from a ‘push’ to a ‘pull’ economy, where consumers get to pick the permutation of devices, connections and vendors/service providers that express who they are, instead of it being forced on them.

Repositioning
In this new world where the consumer drives product design and marketing, companies must do three things—understand where they fit in; create consumer engagement strategies based on mutual exchange of value; and pursue aggressive product innovation and marketing agendas.

Analytics presents an opportunity to understand the new personal ecosystems and—as importantly—the conditions under which people are prepared to share their personal information. Predictive analytics can also extrapolate buying behaviour.

Consumer engagement must target deep relationships with consumers. It goes beyond early approaches in social media, where companies were happy to track consumers’ every move and figuring the associations. You can now rate people on an influencer index, or measure their ‘digital intensity’, including variables like users’ comfort with digital interaction, for instance in the number of digital channels they use. It is much more powerful than tracking or traditional segmentation.

Case in point
Far be it from us to tip a winner, but it’s hard to ignore the recent buzz around a certain smartwatch and smartphone from a certain perennial consumer darling.

The Apple Watch ticks important boxes in Apple’s implied approach to consumers with it. Firstly, it continues the Apple tradition of predicting what consumers want, and secondly, it slots into an ecosystem (albeit one which Apple co-created with tightly integrated offerings and a single digital identity, thereby tying users into a closed ecosystem).

The design, too, speaks to customer preferences, acknowledging that a watch is a piece of jewellery first, whose desirability is enhanced by a degree of customisation, and not any temptation to endow it with over-the-top functionality. Instead, it fits snugly into a device ecosystem that complements its features.

But the iPhone – specifically its use of near-field communications (NFC) – exemplifies aggressive consumer-centric innovation in ways that others haven’t foreseen, or have executed poorly. NFC is the real story here, says Govender—its inclusion is not unprecedented, but Apple’s hardware enablement (embedding the functionality in an NFC chipset) is unique. If it had been another app, it would have been unremarkable. Instead it breaks new ground in bridging the digital and physical worlds.

Moving on
Marketing to the digitally empowered consumer is just the beginning, however. “There is so much potential for getting better consumer data. Google Glass and automation present some of the more obvious opportunities here,” he says.

Pervasive machine intelligence makes for a future in which humans need not be part of the equation, as sensors provide all the intelligence needed to request a service. This could be as rudimentary as a sensor gauging the need for water in a pot plant, or it could be more socially and economically-significant safety or efficiency applications (driverless cars).

Now that is an ecosystem whose needs are both far more predictable than a human-centric one and grossly under-served.

Image: David Blackwell via Flickr.

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