The other day, I went to a salon for a head massage and hated every bit of the experience. I left a one-star, negative review on their GMB (Google My Business) page, explaining in detail the terrible experience I had. The review was seen by many, and many found it helpful.
Ten or 15 years ago, this was not an option available to a paying customer. And this is precisely how digital marketing and the various digital platforms have changed consumer behaviour.
Influencing purchase decisions
The “zero moment of truth’, a term coined by Google’s Vice President of Sales back in 2011, became a part of every marketer’s lexicon thereafter. It is a phenomenon that is entirely internet fuelled. Before purchasing any product, a consumer has the option to educate herself on the product features, access reviews and see whether it’s worth the price. Whether it is a high-ticket price purchase such as a washing machine, laptop, phone or home theatre, or just something as simple as a new brand of shampoo – a large number of the over 700 million internet users in India use the internet to make a purchase decision.
Co-creating brands and their communities
It’s not just purchase decisions and customer feedback loop that digital marketing and the digital era has transformed. Today, consumers co-create brands and their communities, and become and active part of a company’s brand building effort. User Generated Content (UGC), is one of the biggest ways in which customers tell the brand story. The Apple #shotoniphone campaign, is one of the best examples of a really smartly done, successful and long-lasting UGC campaign.
In the digital era, the consumer can be the brand, and the brand can often be the consumer. Let me explain. Any consumer with a sizeable number of followers, can become a micro or macro influencer. Consumers today are investing time and energy in creating personal brands, growing their followers, building a compelling online presence. Personal branding is one of the biggest game-changing phenomena of the 21st century.
Brands, on the other hand, can often mirror their own consumers. Today, a consumer brand is expected to have a personality, tell a story, stand for certain social causes (sustainability, inclusivity, diversity etc) and have several values. In other words, we are seeing a humanising of brands. Brands are no longer corporations that sell commodities. They talk to their customers, listen to what their customers are saying, engage in a conversation, are often witty, funny, friendly, and basically mirror the personality of their ideal customer. Think of Zomato’s brand personality. It’s a bit like a cheeky, funny, 25-year-old, who loves a good burger as much as he loves a great meme. And social media has made this personality building possible.
Expecting personalisation and enhanced user experience
How is the consumer journey being impacted by digital marketing? Thanks to predictive AI, consumers today expect brands to know their choices and needs more than they know it themselves. If you are an Amazon shopper, you expect the marketplace to show you product recommendations and send you mailers with these recommendations based on your purchase history, so that you don’t have to look for similar products in a huge marketplace. It’s the same for Netflix. As a user, you expect the platform to use machine learning to share recommendations on what to watch next.
The consumer today is also expecting to see customised messaging, and ads that are relevant to his or her lifestyle. And AI and ML are making this possible at scale.
The ‘C’ factor
Convenience is the biggest gift technology has given us. Some may argue that it has made us lazier, less social and more isolated. But, today, it’s possible to bring home everything – right from a gym session that can take place through an app, to a haircut and of course, food, fashion and other commodities. And that has helped us optimise our time better, enabling us to do more with less time, as we get technology to work harder for us. From the marketing context, technology (virtual reality in particular), has even enabled consumers sitting in faraway lands to make purchase decisions for ultra-high ticket price products such as real estate. We have seen many instances of real estate brands leveraging AR to help consumers get a virtual site visit done, and book an apartment, even without visiting a model apartment on site. This gained momentum particularly during the pandemic when many NRIs indulged in remote purchase of real estate. Several fine jewellery brands used VR as well to accelerate remote buying. So product categories in which customers would make a purchase decision only after a “touch and feel” experience, have also been disrupted through digital marketing.
In all, it has been a complete disruption of consumer patterns, behaviours and journey, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.