Smart, Savvy and Synced: the Constantly Connected Customer

As consumers become more and more engaged with the digital sphere, the onus is on brands to create meaningful and personal experiences that cut through the noise to build rapport and shape lasting relationships.

The Happiour app can be used by friends to share daily deals from their favourite brands.

It is a sunny June afternoon during ‘World Cup Fever’, and an enthusiastic football fan, heady with the promise of England’s chances, draws up in the car park of his local Tesco. His phone whistles with a text message, informing him that a special pack of Coca-Cola is on offer in-store. The communication from the soft drinks giant is an example of a brand keeping pace with a generation of always-on consumers and an understanding of the finer points of how to harness new technologies.

This proved to be a highly effective campaign for Coca-Cola Enterprises, working in partnership with Tesco and mobile specialist Weve last year. The success was rooted in the brand’s ability to deliver relevant, carefully timed messages in the right context.

“The more you can tap into people’s interests or behaviours, and create a strong link between them and their environment, the more likely you are to drive sales,” comments Simon Miles, digital director at Coca-Cola Enterprises. The Tesco car park message was one of a number of geo-specific messages the soft drinks retailer delivered to customers it understood were likely to be preparing for England’s first World Cup match in summer 2014.

“As a leader in the FMCG space, it’s essential to us that we remain pioneers in digital marketing,” adds Miles. “Working in partnership with retailers, we aim to close the gap between traditional marketing methods and innovative new technologies to ensure that our activity meets shopper needs both present and future.”

Forget Generation X and Y: it’s Generation C, the constantly connected customer, who is calling the shots now. The term, first coined by Nielsen in 2012, describes people who are continuously plugged into and engaged with the online sphere. Typically aged between 18 and 34, they consume media on a range of mobile devices, including tablets and phones. They also connect with and contribute to social media and are composite multi-taskers, moving seamlessly between devices and channels.

Consumer needs are continuously evolving and technology is at the heart of this change. This connected demographic can access the internet 24/7 from their wafer-thin tablets, smartwatches and even Wi-Fi enabled refrigerators. In order to capitalise on this trend, brands need to become more agile and engaged with the online space, navigating the risks and opportunities of digital.

In this context, social media becomes more than just a platform: it is a primary tool for customer interaction, customer retention and ultimate brand loyalty. This is a key strand of Virgin Media’s new social media strategy.

“Consumers of all demographics are spending more time on social media, so it’s a key platform where we can reach people with relevant – and now increasingly targeted – messages that support marketing objectives throughout the entire prospect and customer lifecycle,” explains Richard Larcombe, marketing and brand director at Virgin Media.

“The challenge is how we get cut-through for our messages and match the context of this environment – we compete on Facebook with updates from friends and family so we need to create engaging, exciting and personable content that doesn’t get dismissed as “another ad”.”

Taking into account the importance that advocacy plays across the path to purchase, the brand keeps an eye on how much of this originates and is spread on social media. Virgin Media’s strategy is to try to amplify and provide a platform for positive advocacy by encouraging consumers to engage via social media at important points of the customer journey.

Virgin Media also understands how social media comments are visible, permanent and can influence others’ perceptions of a brand through positive or negative examples “going viral”. “Research tells us prospective customers visit social channels to find out how good a company is at customer service in case they have a problem,” comments Larcombe. “This elevates social care as a strategic marketing tool for acquisition.”

New behaviours inevitably mean brands need to devise new ways of communicating with consumers. However, it might be a cyber age but the fundamentals of human experience remain the same, particularly the nerves and excitement of impending parenthood. “We are quite lucky compared to other high street players because we are marketing to a customer on a very well-defined path,” explains Ryan Davies, head of CRM and loyalty at Mothercare.

v“By tuning into set points on that customer’s rite of passage – from when they first start looking at maternity bras to when they start considering development toys – we can work out quite accurately where they are on the parenting journey.” Mothercare leverages its knowledge of the customer lifecycle to fully engage consumers every step of the way.

In response to the shift in the way people consume media and how they communicate with each other – notably through social feeds – Mothercare turns its wealth of data assets into actionable insights by being social by design. “We use data to link behind the scenes and help parents talk to other parents,” comments Davies. “Clearly we are a retailer and we want to sell you products but one of the wonderful things in our market is the reasons you buy those products.”

A notable example of the brand’s social media initiatives is its ‘2am Club’ Twitter Parties. A tweet such as ‘Its 2am – tell us why you are up?’ taps into a universal desire to engage with like-minded others and share stories. With Mothercare playing host, enthusiastic responses such as ‘I’ve just given birth’; ‘It’s my first feed’; ‘My baby’s got colic’ or even ‘I’m in labour’, demonstrate just how constantly connected these consumers are.

That sharing of stories is wrapped up with a brand advocacy that goes on to drive brand consideration and purchase intent. It is a strategy fit for the times. “The new consumer is a constantly connected customer walking around flicking through Facebook on their phone,” comments Will Hayward, vice president of BuzzFeed. “TV or some other sort of push marketing strategy is not enough anymore, brands now need to think about how they do things that are of value and justify their presence in social feeds.”

Brands need to deliver relevant and valuable personalised communications to consumers when they need them. “There is an infinite quantity of content online so the emphasis shifts toward high value and distribution where you get consumers themselves to pass to each other,” continues Hayward. “In place of all the homepage takeovers or the email newsletters which get lost in this swarm of content, if you can get one person to say to their friend ‘Have you seen this?’, a brand can really win.”

Another method for both gaining consumer approval and commercial return is an astute use of humour, an incredibly powerful tool within social media. “People like to share things that make them smile, so humorous content is more likely to be shared,” comments Virgin’s Larcombe. “But also to be humorous you have to understand a topic intimately to understand the tensions, frictions, customs, beliefs and memes of an audience or community that can be twisted or turned or dramatized for comic effect.” One of Virgin Media’s key assets is the Virgin brand and tone of voice, which gives it permission to enter any topic or area as long as it is using that brand personality to create original and entertaining content.

Brands who are keeping pace with consumer expectations and winning out commercially in this connected landscape are putting the consumer at the heart of their marketing strategy. They are responding to the digitalisation of people’s social lives with social ads; they are offering personalised products and services; they are both telling stories and becoming a genuine part of the conversation.

Simon Miles; Richard Larcombe; Will Hayward and Ryan Davies will all be speaking as part of the Big Debate on 29th and 30th April at MWL ’15. Crafted around the needs of senior marketers, this conference brings together some of the industry’s brightest minds to share their expertise.

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