Being A Customer In The Digital Age

11th Apr 2016

The dividing line between our offline lives and our online lives continues to dissolve, as online activities become intertwined with almost everything we do.

As people spend more and more time on social media – maybe around a third of the world’s population at the last estimate - advertisers are not far behind them. As somebody once said (many people have been credited): ‘If you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product.’ Or maybe, put another way, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.’ Yes, sharing your personal data is the price you pay for ‘free’ services such as Facebook and Google.

And with mobile-oriented services like WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger achieving the top social media ranking spots in the world’s biggest economies, a lot of that digital activity is now taking place on mobile.

Currently, apps such as Snapchat, WeChat and Kik Messenger are the ‘new kids on the block’, but nothing so far has reached anything like the huge popularity of Twitter (founded 2006, 330 million users) or Facebook (founded 2004, 1.5 billion users) who have added to their initial fan base by buying up potential rivals such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook  is hoping to embed itself more deeply into people’s daily lives by promoting Messenger, its Instant Messaging service, as a service through which people can buy things and privately communicate with businesses. Already  KLM, the Dutch airline, is giving passengers access to boarding passes and flight information through Messenger and letting them chat to customer service representatives. And people can also hail a Uber taxi through Messenger instead of going to the taxi firm’s own app. 


Now advertisers love social media because they can pick up all sorts of useful information about its users – their age, gender, location, spending power, interests and so on - and such data mining is increasingly blurring the line between advertising and e-commerce. Each interaction that users have with a company’s posts or updates contains meaningful information that brands can use to their advantage. Predictive analytics can then provide granular data that brands can segment and slice to generate highly targeted (some say ‘slightly creepy’) adverts that follow the user around to nudge them into making a purchase.

Not only that, but Facebook and Twitter are currently testing adverts that include a ‘buy now’ button which allows users to buy the products being advertised at the click of a button and without having to leave the social network at all. Once upon a time, Facebook and Twitter were thought of as a good way to build awareness and reputation, but not necessarily as a way of generating direct sales, but now all that’s changing as well.

Same Place

It also used to be the case that going shopping was a distinct and separate activity from chatting to friends, eating at a restaurant or going to see a film – all those sorts of social activities that are shared on Facebook and Twitter - but now they’re all being pushed together into the same Twitter feed or Facebook timeline.  Users of Facebook Messenger can now have conversations with companies without leaving the app.

The challenge for advertisers will be how well their product or brand can complement the target consumer’s existing tastes as demonstrated on their feed or timeline. They need to avoid becoming, at best, slightly irritating or, at worse, an unwanted distraction.

Retailers who take the time and effort to interpret their brand across various social platforms to provide a seamless omnichannel experience will certainly have a major advantage over rivals.

Smart brands understand that predictive analytics can be used in social media marketing to predict what customers are looking for and then make it easy for them to buy it.


Many digital platforms are still new and fairly volatile of course and it’s hard to predict which ones will stay the course and still be well-known in ten years’ time. For example,  Periscope, an app for live video and Vine, which allows users to post six second videos, were all the rage a while ago, but haven’t really taken off as marketing mediums just yet.

It’s unlikely that all advertising will transfer to social media platforms. Television and radio adverts are still good at getting across a message to a mass audience – TV because a primetime programme can still reach 20 million in one sitting and radio because it’s relatively inexpensive to produce and air - while print adverts have the advantage of being targeted at specific readerships and are preferred by some to the proliferation of popups and banner ads (not to mention the fear of spam and viruses.)

Online retailing is becoming increasingly important but the real challenge is not the act of getting customers to buy something, but rather taking the consumer on an effortless and seamless journey from influence to point of purchase.

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