The Connected Consumer

We are certainly trucking along at the speed of light these days. The song “video killed the radio star” comes to mind but most of the “younger” set will most likely let that reference slide by as a typo.  Without disclosing my age, when the advent of the music video came around, who would have thought it would catch on? Then, in the blink of an eye, MTV revolutionized the way we experienced music and television. From music videos being programmed by a station director, to the idea that the viewers could actually send in there vote and control what songs were played next with a simple phone call (and eventually via a SMS message). From dumb phones to smart TV’s, the consumer landscape is changing at an alarming rate.  One of the terms that have risen from the fire and chaos is the “connected consumer”.  You’ve heard all the chatter of the evolution of the “it consumer” from Gen X’ers to the Gen Y demographic… and now I give you, The Gen-C consumer… Generation-Connected! As much as many of the uber-hip ad folk hate the term, it’s fitting for the topic at hand.  Call us what you want, but we’re “connected” and we like to spend some coin (I can say coin around here can’t I? More on coin later) We’re the ones that pay for our double-decaffeinated lattes with our smart phones, control our TV’s from our tablets and send out tweets from our TV’s all while checking to see what everyone else says about the restaurant we’re about to make reservations at… from our phones. Then we get home and leave a brutally honest review on many of the sites available, ultimately holding these brands publicly accountable. Think of this as the era of the connected consumer. They get what they want, when they want it and can do all their research and price shopping without leaving their bed. We can’t neglect the other side of the equation, which we will call the e-retailer, digital brand or the connected retailer.  A new era of commerce is here and despite the changes, how we engage with our customers really shouldn’t change too much… on the human level. So let’s fast-forward a bit so I can get to the point of this post, how does the “connected consumer” look at brands that are using social, whether they are using it well or not?  One of the questions I have is whether or not companies can keep up with their customers. It started with blogs, MySpace, Facebook & Twitter. There were conversations taking place and the industry seized an opportunity to get involved with them. The brands that realized that this wasn’t a one-sided conversation all about them and their awesome offers, and more about the conversation, were the trail-blazers and wrote the book on how to succeed as a digital brand. This is where the “human level” comes into play and the old way of doing business still reigns supreme. Brands speak to their customers and if they are smart, they listen and ask as opposed to tell, tell, tell. The brands that realize that this unique relationship is a combination of using all of these social platforms to provide information about their products/services, listen to their customers feedback, and finally, to do social good. (Bombarding consumers with marketing messages via Facebook & Twitter probably isn't a winning strategy, listening to them is far more important.) As a connected consumer myself, I judge digital brands no differently than I do brands that aren’t online and using social. Are they genuine in their messaging? Do I want something in my inbox or mailbox every day for stuff I don’t need? Do they REALLY care? Can I have a real conversation to get more information or provide feedback? Almost the same rules apply. I also look for human connection or, at the very least, a brand voice that brings life to a Twitter feed or Facebook page.  I may be on an island here, but I prefer to spend my money with companies that are involved with being good social citizens. I just saw a quote from Shiv Singh, Head of Digital at PepsiCo, yesterday that said, “90% of consumers want companies to tell them the ways they are supporting causes.” Well, I guess it’s a big island and I will at least have some friends to talk to.

There are so many brands that are doing social well and a handful that are firing on all cylinders. It’s no longer about how many fans or followers, but more about the number of meaningful relationships we have. Two of my favorite digital brands, are Starbucks & Whole Foods. They are both shining examples of brands that leverage all available platforms extremely well. Websites loaded with useful content, from recipes to insight into their partners, growers, farmers etc, to their iPhone apps that allow you to create shopping lists or pay for your coffee without needing a wallet. They utilize Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and microsites all in an orchestrated and integrated strategy. On the Fast Casual front, I think Genghis Grill is making some serious noise as well as Panera Bread. And we can’t ignore McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts efforts in the QSR space. It’s all about the conversation… you might not earn millions with sales by being on the social media conversation they might lose millions by being out of it.

Here is a quick image I threw together really quickly of how Starbucks is firing on ALL cylinders... They have a great wesbite with a lot of customer engagement, iPad & iPhone apps and of course we have Howard Schultz's books (which I happen to be a huge fan of).

This post was originally written as a contribution to "Digital Brand Camp", a great event put on by the awesome folks at People Report. I am honored to be a part of it!