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Anecdotal evidence didn’t work in your middle school science fair, so it shouldn’t be expected to hold up in the high stakes world of marketing. We must be able to provide measurable results in order to justify shifts in budget and overall priorities.

You could hire an expensive consulting company to conduct extensive market research, or you could start with the “FEED” Digital Brand Experience Study.

Razorfish, an industry leader in market and technology research and implementation, “surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers (50.5% female, 49.5% male) in four major age groups to understand how their adoption of Internet technology and services impacted the way that they engaged with brands.”

The overriding message in the (very stylishly presented) report and the data, both provided online at no charge or in book form from Blurb:

“Simply put, ‘connected consumers’ are the new mainstream.”

Brand engagement in the digital space–and the accompanying shift in marketing dollars–is more than just a game of “Everyone else is doing it, so we should too.” In fact, it would be more apt to say “All of our customers and potential customers expect it, so we need to do it to survive.”

According to study results:

“65% of consumers report that a digital brand experience has changed their opinion (either positively or negatively) about a brand or the products and services a brand offers.”

The report outlines these new habits of the highly connected consumer base in a section called “digital primacy.” According to Forrester’s 2009 North American Technographics Benchmark Survey cited in the report, “consumers spend 34% of their total media time online and 35% watching television.” These numbers shift dramatically toward the online realm for those 45 years old and under.

Consumers are becoming increasingly fluent in the use and adaptation of digital technology, augmenting the opportunities for increasing brand awareness and engagement. Of those surveyed, 84% “rely on the web to get current news or information,” among other significant statistics.

What this means is that companies ignore or underutilize the digital space at their own peril. The audience and its expectations are shifting to the online world, and reasoned, measured efforts must be made in order to keep up.

This Had Better Be Good

Building brand affinity online goes beyond creating a Facebook “fan page” or tweeting about new products. Customers want special offers and deals.

Of those surveyed who follow a brand on Twitter, “44% say access to exclusive deals” is their primary motivator for doing so. Similar results (37%) are found among those who “friended” a brand on Facebook or MySpace.

These numbers suggest not only that companies should be offering incentives for new and loyal customers, but point toward the overarching expectation for customer service in the digital space.

It is the totality of user experience that builds the brand. Among the 70% of surveyed consumers who have participated in a brand-sponsored contest or sweepstakes:

  • “96% are more aware of the brand
  • “96% are more likely to consider that brand when in the market for a product or service
  • “96% are more likely to purchase a product or service from that brand; and
  • “92% are more likely to recommend that brand to others.”

An unsatisfactory experience with a completely voluntary exercise such as a giveaway or other interactive promotion does not yield this level of affinity. Beyond the stunningly high number who end up more likely to make a purchase, the 92% who would recommend the brand to others should be enough to get anyone’s attention.

Show Me Some Numbers

In the days of static websites, possibly with ecommerce capabilities, measurement of consumer purchasing decisions was an fairly straightforward matter of spending a modicum of quality time with site analytics.

The digital world has changed with social media, allowing for a longer tail of engagement with brands and corporate entities. Digital experience is more than building a brand: it can now determine that brand’s success or failure for a large and ever-growing segment of the market.

While it’s one matter to sway consumer opinion based on digital brand experience, it’s quite another to drive sales. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed reported that an online experience has affected (either positively or negatively) their opinion about a brand or product, it’s the numbers on the resulting call to action that show a direct correlation between those opinions and buying habits:

“97%—a near-unanimous majority—report that a digital brand experience has influenced whether or not they then went on to purchase a product or service from a brand.”

For first-time purchasers, the results are equally staggering:

“64% of consumers have made a first purchase from a brand because of a digital experience such as a web site, microsite, mobile coupon, or email.”

What we see here is that online–more so than any other media–has a direct, measurable impact on the marketing funnel. We don’t need to rely solely on surveys and market research; we can correlate those survey findings with real, hard data collected via technology.

What It All Means

Billboards and TV commercials aren’t customized to an individual’s personal tastes and habits. The digital space, however, is built to be a two-way interaction, and marketing must adapt.

Each and every medium–display, broadcast, print, digital–is related and can affect consumer opinion and purchasing. Multi-channel marketing must be coordinated and branded appropriately, and deliver a high level of customer experience and engagement.

Consumers expect interaction, incentives, and consistency of service across digital platforms. Companies must respond to this immediate, explosive impact or suffer.

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