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We know that the amount of content available to consumers has increased dramatically in recent years. The dramatic increase in supply, combined with consumers’ ability to easily search for content through search engines like Google and Bing, has fueled a corresponding increase in consumer demand for immediate answers, i.e., content.
If we focus on the digital landscape, I believe we can identify four primary modes of content consumption:
Consumers expect to find information quickly. Any question, anywhere, and at anytime. This could be as trivial as answering a friendly debate about who to the Yankees in the American League playoffs in 1981, to questions about the best solutions to a problem, to questions specific to your brand or product. The marketer’s role in this scenario is to anticipate the questions people are likely to ask related to your brand, your products, and the problems your brand or products solve. Once these fundamental questions have been identified, brands face the challenge of creating the content that answers those questions and figuring out how to index that content so that is can be found quickly.
Primary channels include search, website, video, mobile search, mobile apps, social media (in the form of blogs, blogger outreach, etc.)
Content consumption happens passively on the Internet, just as content is consumed passively in the form of Television ads, product placement, outdoor advertising, etc. It is not that people are out looking for specific content, but as they engage in other online activities such as reading news, playing games, or catching up with friends, some piece of content they were not looking for can catch their attention. Moreover, consumers (in the US at least) understand the need for advertiser supported business models. Not only are they generally accepting of things like banner and contextual advertising, many feel this can actually enhance the experience on some websites—so long as it is done in a way that is perceived as respectful and aligned with the activities they are engaged in to begin with. Think about things like banner advertising on banner websites or ads for financial institutions on Yahoo! Finance.
Primary channels include all forms of online advertising including banners, contextual, and behavioral targeted ads. Mobile advertising, video ads, etc.
Consumers tend to develop a small circle of brands they like and trust. If they regularly conduct business with a certain company, they are likely to also want to stay up to date on what that company is doing or what deals that company is offering. In this case, it is not necessarily that they are looking for specific information from that company, but that they anticipate that something that company does will be of interest to them in the future.
This begins to get to the heart of one-to-one marketing online. The brands responsibility in this scenario is to deliver on consumers’ expectations by delivering content that is valuable to them. This can be as simple as providing quality customer services through ongoing reminders, or it can be as complex as delivering highly targeted and timely content based on a customers history with your brand. The brands to do the best job at this continually “surprise and delight” their customers. Take Amazon’s book recommendation engines as an example. Their success is predicated on their ability to introduce me to books that are likely to interest me based on which books I have purchased from them in the past. From the content consumption standpoint, consumers will engage with your content to the degree with which you have demonstrated the ability to deliver value in the past. Contrarily, they will learn to ignore brands that fail to deliver content that is perceived as valuable.
Primary channels include email, text messaging, mobile apps (i.e., push notifications), social media in the form of “Following” brands on Twitter or “Liking” brands on Facebook.
Consumers want to hear from other people they know and trust that something they are considering is legitimate. This is not a new concept. For years people have asked their friends for recommendations, “What do you think of this restaurant?,” “Would you recommend your dentist?,” etc.
The difference now is that a decent percentage of these conversations that were largely inaccessible to marketers are now captured online in the form of comments on social media, ratings and reviews, and blog rants or raves. Additionally, consumers’ sphere of influence has expanded exponentially. Before the digital age, these conversations were limited to a small sphere of family, friends, and neighbors that kept these conversations concentrated and localized. The other alternative for consumers was to turn to “experts” with sufficient budgets to distribute their content (think about Consumer Reports, Michelin guides, etc.).
To me, this is the area where social media in all it’s forms is having the greatest impact on the way consumers consume content online. For the most part, social media provides an avenue for validation. According to our research, when consumers have a problem or know what they want, they search for information and they go to a companies website. Their first stop is to go straight to the source to get information. This is even true for passive content consumption and anticipatory content consumption – consumers will check out what the brand has to say first. BUT then they will do additional research to validate that what the brand is claiming is, in fact, valid. If they can’t validate the brands claims, the chances that they will delay action or look for another alternatives increases significantly.
In short, consumers have learned to be skeptical over the years and social media offers them a chance to either confirm or deny that skepticism.