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Do marketers and consumers share the same digital expectations?

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10th May 2015
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In 2011, retail sales made on mobile devices accounted for approximately one in 50 sales in the UK. Research indicates that in just four years, this number has increased to almost two in every five. This highlights how consumer behaviour and use of digital technologies is evolving, and why there is a growing debate about the skills gap in marketing.

Almost all (93%) of marketers believe it is harder than ever to recruit people with the right skills, according to research by Grovo. A lack of digital expertise is clearly an issue for marketers, which raises questions around the ability of brands to keep pace with emerging technologies and the increasing digital sophistication of consumers.  

Despite this skills gap, according to a new survey of 350 marketers and 1,000 consumers conducted by Sitecore and Econsultancy, marketers are generally aligned with consumers on what constitutes a good digital experience. The findings reveal that the ability to easily discover what you’re looking for in the fewest clicks possible is the most important attribute for both parties. However, the report also highlights that there are some areas in which the two groups differ – where priority is given to factors such as displaying account-specific or location-specific information – demonstrating why it can be difficult for marketers to decide which digital attributes to prioritise.

This is further complicated because marketers often feel the need to offer consumers ‘something extra’ when it comes to digital to differentiate themselves from competitors. But often this distracts from what is actually valued by the brand’s customers. Deciding whether a new digital technology feature is a marketing necessity or a ‘nice to have’ can have an important impact on creating an engaging customer experience.

Take for example the new Blippar augmented reality app, which is being used by some of the world’s biggest brands to provide consumers with an augmented reality layer of information about their products through the lens of a camera. ‘Blipping’ an album cover, for instance, may introduce the band’s latest videos, links to buy gig tickets, reviews, news, tweets or photos.

The question is: how do marketers decide if technology such as this is worth investing in and how highly it ranks in the digital preferences of its customers? A mobile app may be viewed as a necessity by the customers of certain brands and rank much further down in the preferences of others.

Marketers are able to make more informed decisions by being more data-focused and utilising the information they have on their customers. But even the most agile of marketers can find it challenging to know where to focus attention, especially when working to a limited budget.

Digital decision-making

The findings of the report also found that consumers are more likely to value up-to-date information about product availability and pricing, and the ability to check out easily. These attributes suggest that providing a good customer service is equally important to customers when shopping online as it is in-store.

In the eyes of many consumers, mobile optimisation is still seen as an ‘extra mile’ attribute, despite the widespread use of mobile devices, with only 30% and 23% of those surveyed by Sitecore citing a mobile-optimised site as ‘important’ on a smart phone and a tablet, respectively.

However, from a marketer’s perspective, they are twice as likely as consumers to regard smartphone and tablet optimisation as important. The significance of mobile to marketers has further increased since ‘mobilegeddon’. The term refers to the impact of changes Google made recently to its algorithm to favour mobile-friendly websites when consumers search on a mobile device. The update means that companies looking to reap the benefits of organic search from Google must have a site that is responsive on mobile devices, for an enhanced user experience – a result that will greatly benefit the end user.

When it comes to new technologies, such as Blippar, and digital experiences, the sector in which you operate can make a big difference to what customers expect. For example, banking customers value simplicity and the ability to check their details quickly, ideally via a mobile device, while on-the-go. Conversely, in the automotive sector the digital experience is more about form than function. Consumers tend to use websites to get a sense of the ‘look and feel’ of a product, before heading in-store to carry out the transactional elements of purchasing.

Another important factor in the digital decision-making process is a marketer’s budget. Mobile and other ‘extra mile’ attributes should not be pursued as a strategy if it risks investment in basic, ‘must have’ aspects that are more highly valued by consumers.

The key for all brands is in understanding the expectations consumers have of their sector and brand. The rapid pace of technological development in consumers’ lives means that an ability to adapt to changing digital expectations will be paramount to marketers’ success in offering a valuable customer experience. This will certainly be the case when the Gen Z ‘digitally native’ group of consumers, born in the late 90s, begin to raise the bar of digital expectations even higher.

 Laurence DeBruyne is marketing director at Sitecore.

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