Brands are getting better at meeting consumers’ expectations online, but marketers must adapt their digital skills according to the industry in which they work, new research suggests. The survey by Sitecore and Econsultancy of over 350 marketers and 1,100 consumers investigates the differences between what consumers want and what brands are delivering online.

The research asked respondents to rank different attributes of the online experience according to those they feel are most important and those that are least important. From these findings, an average index score was calculated for each attribute relative to the others, with the sum of all the attributes adding up to 100.

The most important attribute of a digital experience overall is that it’s ‘easy to find what you’re looking for’, with marketers scoring this 14.4 and consumers 14.3. This was followed by ‘easy to carry out basic tasks online such as download or pay’ (14 points for marketers, 12.1 for consumers) and ‘the ability to achieve what you need in very few clicks’ (11.4 and 12).

Simon Etherington, UK managing director of Sitecore, believes marketers’ access to user data and rising digital budgets are helping them to do a better job of meeting consumers’ online needs. “Certainly we’re seeing much more of the overall spend on IT becoming marketing-focused – whether it’s being delivered from the CMO’s budget or the CIO’s budget,” he says.

“That’s mainly because there’s now a very big focus on the capability that marketers have to engage on multiple channels and to measure results. That’s really supporting their business cases.”

Despite agreement across the most important attributes, the study reveals certain disparities between how marketers and consumers view digital experiences. For example marketers attach greater importance to mobile optimisation, assigning 6.8 points to the statement ‘the website works well on a smartphone’ versus just 3 points from consumers.

However this finding is undermined by the revelation that consumers are twice as likely as marketers to regard location-based services as important (3.5 points versus 1.7 from marketers). This suggests that consumers think less about the device on which they interact with a brand and more about the overall quality of the digital experience.

There are also divergent views about the importance of a website’s integration with other touchpoints such as social media. Marketers assign 4 points to this attribute compared to only 1.9 points from consumers. Etherington says that given the prominence of social media in most people’s lives, integration is something consumers expect from an online brand experience, but don’t necessarily prioritise.

“The consumer doesn’t really care – they are just looking for a good experience that will result in them either buying something or staying with that organisation,” he adds. “They see it as one experience – the challenge is that most organisations are not set up internally for that.”

The study also breaks down attitudes about online experiences according to different industry sectors. The automotive sector produces the most distinctive set of results, with both marketers and consumers valuing “surprise and delight factors” such as a brand’s ability to predict customer needs.

According to the report, this is indicative of how car research has moved from offline to online channels whereby brands seek to offer interactive and immersive experiences that help consumers find out more about different car models. Brands are still failing to meet expectations in other areas though, with car buyers viewing the ability ‘to perform basic tasks’ online as 77% more important than marketers.

In the utilities sector, consumers and marketers are aligned closely around the importance of having access to useful information. However the results suggest that consumers are looking for ‘moments of delight’ from their utility providers but that this is not rated as highly by marketers in the sector.

In banking, meanwhile, the importance of mobile services is demonstrated by agreement across marketers and customers about the importance of smartphone optimisation. There is scope to improve personalisation strategies here however, with consumers regarding the ability of brands to predict their needs as 79% more important than marketers.

Etherington argues that brands should never lose sight of their customers’ online priorities, in other words “what your customers and partners think are your unique strengths – not what your marketing department thinks”, he says.

“Once you know what those unique strengths are, those are the ones to really focus on and market to. They will vary across industry sectors and across organisations within those sectors.”