Secret Marketer: Brands going all-out digital could be taking on a perilous journey

I read an interesting article the other week about the attitude of the UK public to digital services – that is, doing their banking, shopping and tax return online rather than in person or using a paper form.

It was interesting that although there was a general acceptance of digital, a significant proportion of the population either prefer human interaction or are unable to undertake their transaction online because the supplier doesn’t offer it, the customer does not have the knowledge to use it or they live in a part of the country that precludes Wi-Fi activity.

As marketers, this is a key point to remember. Although there is no marketing department or creative agency that is not already besotted with the so-called digital revolution, the reality is that everyone has not yet joined that march.

I was therefore intrigued to visit Portugal’s capital city Lisbon a few weeks ago. There, not only do all the taxis offer free Wi-Fi to passengers, but the underground metro system offers a perfect mobile signal and Wi-Fi in the carriages while travelling – not just on a few station platforms as we have in this country.

Some say it is a generational thing – all youngsters use digital and that it is the older generation that is stuck in the past. I’m not sure that is true, and remember that people over 50 generate 40% of consumer spending in the UK, their personal wealth exceeds £5tr, 61% of private car sales are made to over-50s, and they take 40% more holidays and spend 20% more on them than those under the age of 50. And don’t forget that most of them will be around for many years to come.

But digital is here to stay, and I was pleased to read that the Prime Minister has committed to providing free Wi-Fi on all trains if he is re-elected at the general election in May, and Virgin Media has committed to increasing the speed of Wi-Fi in cities (bad luck if you live in a rural community, I guess).

The question, however, is whether businesses should force customers to get on the digital bus, by either shutting down non-digital options (and/or using price incentives to make it feel more carrot than stick) or whether the truly enlightened brands need to offer both options – despite the extra cost of running parallel systems? What is true – if you believe the research – is that we are some years away from a digital-only world, so those who go down that route do so at their peril.

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