The world as we know is completely different than the one most of us grew up in. Anyone who caught up in the recent hype around Back to The Future got a great reminder of what things were like 30 years ago. A typical day looked much different than it does now. Our behavior has shifted over the last three decades due in part to the rise of technology. The rise of computers, the internet, and mobile devices has had a massive effect on how we act and interact as we've gained widespread access to information. Our new access made it easier to communicate and gain information, therefore changing our behavior. Gone were the days of the Industrial Age where advertisers simply needed to run TV commercials to sell millions of products and in came the Information Age
As technology has advanced further the access, behavior, and expectations of the consumer have grown. Today we have smartphones, social media, apps, and 4G connections. We can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, wherever we are. It's instant gratification or bust. Enter the Age of the Customer.
So how do we compete for time and attention as we try to do business in these times? To really understand what we should do to compete we need to understand more about the factors that have led to such behavior.
Four Contributing Factors to Shifting Behavior
1st Factor - People Are Spending A Ton of Time Online
It seems that everyone is online, all the time. No matter where we go there's technology and access and we're taking full advantage of it. I believe the reason for so much connectivity is that people clearly enjoy being connected. Everyone wants to be connected with their friends, family, work, and interests as much as possible. It makes sense, and our intent is even noble.
If we're online all the time, it's good for businesses to understand how that time is spent. Let's take a look at where people spent their time online in 2014, (Courtesy of Statista)
Social Media: 37 minutes
Email: 29 minutes
Online Video: 23 minutes
Search Engines: 23 minutes
Online Games: 19 minutes
Blogs: 8 minutes
Online Radio: 8 minutes
Online Newspapers: 5 minutes
Online Magazines: 3 minutes
Other: 31 minutes
As you can see there's a diversity of activity and interest in these numbers. Different people spend time on different types of media, a teenager has different demands than a professional or a retiree. In short, there are different seasons of life that change our consumption allocation.
One logical conclusion would be to attribute the spike in overall online behavior to the youth movement. There are thousands of articles published about the Millennial generation and their addiction to technology. It might be true, but they're not the only culprits. There's mounting evidence that growing time spent online goes well beyond our nation's youth alone.
30% of the Golden Generation visit YouTube at least monthly - (Courtesy of DMR)
12.4 million people 55 years of age or older joined Facebook in 2014, and 80% increase over 2013 - (Courtesty of International Business Times)
People of all generations are jumping at the chance to be online. It turns out we all want to be connected with friends, information, and entertainment.
2nd Factor - People Are Increasingly Mobile
You can't look around a restaurant, park, or baseball game without seeing people glued to their phones. People take their access with them everywhere they go and they use their mobile devices to access information. As we look at the numbers it's clear that the mobility of our access is a big contributor to why we're online more.
42% of US adults own a tablet computer - (Courtesy of Pew Research Center)
The average American spends almost 2 hours per day on a mobile device - (Courtesy of Search Engine Land)
50% of YouTube views come from mobile devices - (Courtesy of DMR)
More and more people have mobile devices and they're clearly using them often.
3rd Factor - People Are Using Search Engines For Everything
Search engines have become one of the most widely adopted tools for people to find the information they're looking for with ease. They're using search engines to find what they're looking for, often as the entry point for their access and consumption of information.
17.8 billion explicit core searches were conducted in September - (Courtesy of comScore)
5.9 million searches on Google every day - (Courtesy of Rick Bates via Main Broadcast Coalition)
When you wanted to find something in 1985 you went into the kitchen, grabbed a phone book to find the number, and called from a phone with a cord on it. You made an appointment to go check it out the next day on your lunch break. Now you push a button and ask Google to look up your options, surf around until you find what you want, and order/call/email/chat without even putting down your foot rest. Search engines of all shapes and sizes help us find what we're looking for because, after all, we want instant gratification.
4th Factor - Availability Information Has Empowered Consumers
With the ability to access information at any time, from any place the game has changed for businesses trying to compete for consumers looking to buy. Gone are the days of potential buyer's heavy reliance on sales people. "Shopping" for cars is done online, not at the dealership.
The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years and 95% of all of the data in the world has been created in the last two years! - (Courtesy of Rick Bates via Main Broadcast Coalition)
That's a lot of new information! It's a good thing we're always connected, right? The advantage to this glut of new information is we now have options we didn't have before. That information, when accessed, can empower us to make better buying decisions. We no longer need to wait around to be sold something, we can figure it out ourselves. What this really means for businesses is that your role in the selling process has shifted too, whether you know it or not. Instead of showing up at your door asking for help people are helping themselves before you even know they're interested.
89% of US internet users search online before they make a purchase, even when that purchase is made at a local business - (Courtesy of HubSpot)
Just because you don't sell an actual product online doesn't mean the digital landscape isn't critical to your success. People research what they buy online, even when they don't buy online. Because of the high availability of detailed online information consumers that are passionate about the products they purchase are often more educated than the sales person. Digital marketing has become increasingly important as companies must compete for people's attention in an online, mobile world.
7 Areas to Compete at in Today's Digital Landscape
As the realization has likely set in that you're behind the curve in positioning your business to compete in this dynamic environment, some application tips could prove helpful. If you'd like to perform your own assessment of your online marketing baseline I've outlined seven important tactics to employ.
1. Build a responsive website
If our websites don't respond to all those mobile viewing devices we're alienating our visitors about half the time. We can't compete in this brave new world without the ability for people to browse our sites from their phone and tablets. The user interfaces (UI) we create should take into account the complete user experience (UX) they desire. As Seth Godin said in 'The Big Red Fez', web visitors are kind of like monkeys in front of a computer. They're all just looking for the damn banana they got online to find. As businesses, it's our job to make it as easy and painless as possible for them to find the banana. If our websites don't present good user experiences to help them find the banana, we're failing them.
2. Start your own blog
Publishing helpful articles to our websites through our blogs is essential because it provides valuable content for consumers to discover while online. Search engines love fresh content that helps build value to their results pages (SERP) and they reward the websites that produce it with better rankings. The articles can then be shared across a host of online mediums like social, email, etc. The more content we produce the more we'll get found and the more we'll be seen as the trusted resource consumers return to for help.
3. Build a social community
Building our presence across a host of applicable social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn allows us to reach an audience that likely won't otherwise end up on our websites. Remember, social media (and their apps) makes up a large percentage of people's time online. They're on social media so we need to be there too. We should be mindful not to be overly promotional, though, instead working to answer questions, share tips to help people learn about what they're interested in, and provide a sounding board to our customers.
4. Publish resources of value
If consumers are taking the time to educate themselves online before they make a purchase, we should help them, not fight them. Instead of holding all of our 'secret industry recipes' close to the vest we should share our intellectual property openly. If we share our advice and wisdom in a variety of digital formats such as eBooks, Slideshares, Webinars, Whitepapers, and PodCasts we'll build a library of value for people to access on demand. This library should live on our website where we can request contact information to access so we can learn more about the people who are interested in order to improve future efforts and personalization.
5. Build a sound email marketing strategy
Email isn't dead, in fact, the second highest amount of time people spend online is checking email databases. If we want to be successful with email we need to change our mindsets however, no one likes spam. Our emails need to be highly relevant to who we're sending them to. They should be personalized, catered to what we know they're interested in, and full of value if we want them to be more effective. Email isn't a way to blast people with coupons any more than social media is. It's another channel to stay in touch, inform, and offer consumers help in finding what they're looking for.
6. Track everything and make adjustments
In the world of digital marketing, everything is an experiment. Every piece of strategy we execute is really just a hypothesis. We think it's going to work or we wouldn't do it, but we're not sure until we see the results. If we don't learn from our digital marketing experiments we're unlikely to improve. Careful analysis and a critical approach to reviewing everything we develop for our prospects and customers will help us build on what was successful and learn from our failures.
7. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there
There's really two schools of thoughts on how we can compete. One option is to be guarded and minimize risk. Another is to be open and take chances. We can accept the possibility of failure and proceed with cautious optimism or we can come up with enough ways things might fail to justify inaction. My advice is to go for it. Put yourself out there and take a chance.
Yes, someone might not like the way you write. You might get negative feedback about your brand or product on social media. You can bet that everything you do won't be a home run, but striking out once in a while is acceptable too. I know one thing, you'll never hit the home run you're dreaming of if you don't swing the bat. Work hard to learn the best practices, plan carefully, execute with precision, test everything, and repeat often. You'll get better and better as you learn and experiment, and so will the results.
Eric Pratt is the Managing Partner of Revenue River Marketing, a marketing agency located in Denver, CO. Revenue River was founded in 2009 as an outsourced sales agency but transformed itself for the purpose of building their client's lead generation machines and full-cycle customer acquisition. Eric writes and speaks about sales, management, leadership, and marketing. If you'd like to connect with him he welcomes reaching out to his LinkedIn & Twitter