Keeping Up in the On-Demand Economy

Man Writing I Want It Now

Public transit running on delay? Request an Uber or Lyft for immediate transportation. A party gone dry? Tap a button and have alcohol rush-delivered. Forget a necessary ingredient at the grocery store? Order it through Postmates and get it in time for the next step of your recipe.

By catering to the needs of consumers in what feels like an instant, the on-demand economy has shortened consumer attention spans, rendering the need for patience in the marketplace nearly obsolete. Perhaps the most visible example is Amazon Prime Now, which offers 2-hour delivery on over 25,000 products spanning 25 product categories, from household essentials to electronics to pet supplies. The service eliminates the need to leave the room, without sacrificing immediacy or efficiency.

Traditional retailers can’t compete with the convenience and speed of immediate delivery, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for them to succeed. Since brands likely can’t be faster or more convenient than top performers in the space, they should compete where their on-demand counterparts can’t—by creating that which can’t be replicated digitally. This is an opportunity to give consumers a compelling reason to come to them, something that offsets the “inconvenience” of in-person shopping.

Innovative grocers have taken this to heart. With delivery services like Peapod and Instacart eating into profits, they have started to expand shoppers’ expectations of what a grocery trip can entail. Rather than just purchasing food for the week ahead, consumers can now grab a drink, test out new foods and be entertained. Providing samples for customers may not be a novel approach, but Trader Joe’s makes them an integral element of the shopping experience—checkout lines frequently snake through the maze of store aisles, and shoppers know to expect a sample station along the way. Not just the chance to try something new, it’s also a way to lessen the burden of waiting in line. Whole Foods takes it a step farther, with stores now including restaurants and bars within. The bar at a Brooklyn location hosts weekly trivia nights, reflecting an attempt to create a community for shoppers.

These experiences can be complimentary or require purchase, so long as they demonstrate concern and appreciation for consumers. Cosmetics store Sephora allows shoppers to try on any product prior to purchase. Home goods retailer Sur La Table offers cooking classes that not only provide the chance to test out their cookware, but also impart new recipes and skills. The opportunity to take a product for a test drive is something that online retailers can’t provide as easily. It’s the “touch and feel” effect, and it’s lost when a purchase is made fully online.

At its heart, creating an experience is just a way to provide excellent customer service. Consumers are willing to slow down when it feels worth it, and by putting their interests at the forefront, savvy brands are able to connect with them in a meaningful way. Carving out their own niche will help traditional retailers succeed in the evolving on-demand culture, building loyalty and affinity in the landscape in which they operate.

Predicting Picks: Personalization 2.0

Personalization 2.0

From tampons to toilet paper, from streaming services to fast-casual restaurants, consumers are presented with a breadth of options so large that they can make purchase decisions based not only on what product fits their needs, but on what best aligns with their belief system. It’s a reflection of a culture that champions the individual—and the idea that there’s a specific product for every personality. Perhaps the most inherent offshoot of this idea is hyper-personalization, which is by no means a recent trend, but certainly a persistent one. From supplement regimens tailored to specific health goals to hair care products formulated from an individual’s response to a series of questions, brands are keen on serving the illusion of bespoke offerings.

But where personalization was initially presented as a feature to help consumers differentiate themselves from others, it has evolved to become more of a service—the curation of options that an individual is likely to value. It’s not about serving a personalized product so much as a tailored experience. Brands are now using suggestions as a way to relieve choice paralysis—the phenomenon in which a person feels overwhelmed by the number of options available to them—and consumers are receptive to it.

It’s the next phase of personalized marketing—and it goes a few steps further than addressing a person by name in promotional emails. According to a Salesforce study, more than 63% of Millennials are willing to share their data with companies in exchange for offers and discounts specific to them.1 By analyzing user data, brands aren’t just predicting behavior but shaping it. Fashion retailer Topshop offers an online style quiz in which users answer questions about their wardrobe and, in exchange for providing their contact and demographic information, are presented with items that fit their style. Nordstrom offers a similar digital function, called Your Look, in which the more information a user provides, the more specific the recommendations will be. The result of which is, ideally, less time spent wading through the sea of options.

It’s the same idea as the “Top Picks for You” section on streaming platforms like Netflix. With millions of hours of content to choose from, the section predicts what a user will enjoy based on past behavior. The idea is to empower the viewer to make a decision that will satisfy his or her wants by providing curated options. Netflix took it a step further recently with a new movie, Bandersnatch, that allows the viewer to decide what happens to the main character, like a choose-your-own-adventure for the digital age. Based on the viewer’s choices, the movie ultimately leads to one of five main endings. The concept offers the illusion of control, but in reality, Netflix is merely facilitating the decision-making process for viewers, the same way they do with their viewing recommendations.

An overload of choices isn’t just prevalent in the entertainment and consumer goods spheres: thanks to the advent of dating apps, options for romantic relationships can seem similarly endless. One new app, Juliet, aims to change that by providing users with one match at a time. At the end of a predetermined time span (generally less than one week), each user will respond to a series of questions about their experience interacting with their match, and the app’s artificial intelligence will select someone who is a closer match for the next day. By lessening the impact of choice on the user’s end, Juliet aims to make app-based dating feel more intentional and personal.

There is a fine line to tread in this sphere. While consumers crave assistance in finding the best options, there is still a prevalent fear that tech companies mine too much information—many a science fiction film is based on the fear of machines making decisions for humans. Brands must ensure that the personalized options they are providing do not invade the privacy of consumers. Otherwise, the positive associations from the relief of choice paralysis may begin to feel like an assault on free will.

1 https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2016/12/consumers-want-more-personalized-marketing.html

Desperate for a Digital Detox

Digital Detox

The latest smartphone model used to be the pinnacle of luxury, but now, time away from that device has usurped it as the commodity people most crave.

What happened?

The technology that helped simplify lives, fortify connections and spread access to information has in some cases eliminated human connection. Smartphones carry the guise of allowing a user to multitask, but this digital convenience can lead to real-world accidents—think texting while driving.

Add to the equation that the world seems to be on fire—literally and figuratively. A constant stream of headlines regarding natural disasters, political division and socioeconomic instability is delivered straight to phones, serving as a perpetual reminder of the chaos of the surrounding world.

There’s a greater reliance than ever on technology, with one study finding that consumers spend an average of five hours a day on their phones, a tally that nears 11 weeks annually.[1] That’s why cell phone addiction—and its potential side effects—is becoming more of a concern. Research suggests that addiction to technology is associated with anxiety, sleep deprivation, and other physical and mental ailments,[2] contributing to the growing trend of digital detoxes in which an individual purposefully disconnects with their mobile devices.

With 47% of consumers admitting to limiting their use of mobile devices,[3] it’s no surprise that the travel industry offers entire vacations around the concept of going tech-free through digital detox packages. From sailing trips to detox safaris, operators aim to provide a level of immersion that keeps you present. The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel incentivizes the surrender of devices upon check in with vouchers for kayaking, books, cards and board games. It’s the realization of the idea that time wasted on devices could be better spent engaging in experiences—a literal exchange of one for the other.

A more affordable way to detox is simply to try spending time away from one’s phone. That’s the rationale behind National Day of Unplugging, a project that encourages a 24-hour break from mobile devices. It’s a way to be more mindful, or more aware, of what one is doing, to temper the relationship between human and device. Mindfulness is a natural partner of digital detoxes, since it requires a consumer to consciously devote thought to something done automatically, like checking a phone for notifications.

That said, it’s not necessary to ditch the device altogether to escape the digital drudge. It may seem counterintuitive to rely on a device to help disconnect from it, but there are smartphone apps that exist to help users simultaneously unplug and practice self-care. The meditation app Headspace serves as a primer on mindfulness, with guided meditations that can assist a person in becoming more conscious of digital behavior. Mute, an app that tracks the amount of time spent on a device each day, asks users to account for their phone usage, sending alerts when a certain level of usage is reached. The logic behind these apps is that awareness can contribute to a healthier relationship with devices.

Any brand can support the disconnecting trend by considering ways to enable non-digital behavior. The point isn’t to do away with technology, but to be more mindful of how it affects day-to-day life. It’s a reminder that while technology supports our lives in many ways, the reverse is not true—our lives do not exist to support technology.

[1] http://flurrymobile.tumblr.com/post/157921590345/us-consumers-time-spent-on-mobile-crosses-5
[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201802/could-you-be-addicted-technology
[3] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-survey-us-edition.html

When D2C is Your CTA

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

It’s a buyer’s world—we’re just living in it. At least that’s the takeaway from the unstoppable growth in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) sphere. Shoppers are turning to brands that sell exactly what they want—conveniently, directly and frequently online. Two-thirds of consumers expect direct connectivity with a brand,[1] paving the way for success for digital-focused brands eschewing the traditional model of selling product through a retail partner.

The conveniences inherent in online shopping have directly impacted the growth of D2C brands, not only by removing the need to shop at a brick-and-mortar location, but by eliminating the cost of selling through a middle-man. The result? Higher quality products at affordable prices. Smart luggage provider Away says it best with its tagline: “First class luggage at coach prices.” The brand’s suitcases use the same materials as luggage that costs three times as much, but by owning production, marketing, distribution and sales, Away is able to provide quality at a lower cost.

Some of the most successful D2C brands have built a business model based on expertise. Rather than produce a variety of products like retail giants of the past, successful D2C brands focus on a single category—and frequently, a single product. Consider men’s grooming company Harry’s, which launched with just one razor. After being inundated with options in the shaving aisle, founder Andy Katz-Mayfield sought to simplify the razor shopping process. Using his experience as a shopper, Katz-Mayfield created one style of high-quality razor, bypassing the need to sift through the myriad options at the store. Focusing efforts on the one razor allowed Harry’s to be viewed as a category leader despite being newer to the market than more established brands.

The D2C model also lends itself to a price transparency that customers will soon come to expect as the norm. D2C clothing manufacturer Everlane breaks down the exact cost of producing an article of clothing, from materials to labor to hardware, for every item for sale on its website. This “true cost” is displayed adjacent to the price at which Everlane sells the item, and also compared to the much higher price at which a traditional retailer lists a similar item. With nearly 40% of consumers saying they would switch to a brand that is more transparent,[2] this tactic is more than just a way to showcase the value to the customer—it allows brands to develop personal relationships with their audience.

The stories D2C brands cultivate are the natural continuation of a more transparent relationship with customers who feel increasingly comfortable discussing their affinity for brands they trust. D2C brands are harnessing the power of user-generated content, in which people share their experiences with a product, to both study and broadcast what they’ve learned about their audience. Rent the Runway, a company through which users can rent and return designer clothing, fills its Instagram with reposted images of consumers who have tagged the company in their social posts. Their feed reflects the desire of their community: real women living their best lives affordably. Rather than buying their audience through television or print ads, D2C brands are creating their audience—and proudly showing them off.

There are lessons to be learned from D2C brands even if adopting the sales model is not always feasible. Namely that specificity is key and transparency is the future. An understanding of the fundamentality of these two concepts will help brands as they seek to foster deeper relationships with consumers in a digital-focused world.

[1] https://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/The-Direct-Brand-Economy-Master-Deck-v17.pdf
[2] https://www.cision.com/us/2017/12/transparency-key-to-brand-loyalty/

How Do Your Customers Get Their Web? Browser? App? OTA?

marketing_virtual_realityAs the web gets larger and larger, its access points get smaller and smaller. Soon they may even be invisible.

Browser-access is antiquated

Going fast are the days of using a desktop web browser for online commerce. Recent Nielsen data clearly shows that the trend for mobile Internet access favors mobile platforms (iOS, Android, etc.) by 90%[1]. Traditional desktop layouts are over-complicated for smaller touch-screens, draining battery life, clogging download speeds, and wasting valuable bytes of data downloads via a cellular connections. The first correction was the platform-adaptive web design – a simple solution for those who require only a basic Internet presence. But for greater consumer interaction, let’s look at the app.

The App is the current state of online access

User-friendly apps (applications) are ‘micro programs’ that streamline layout, options, and access directly to a specific commercial or industrial entity. Retail business apps offer QRC and barcode scanning options, insurance apps offer online claim forms with pop-up selections rather than character-entered data, content and media providers like Netflix or The New York Times offer episode lists, articles, and subscription information directly to the consumer with no distribution middle-man. Voice command systems like Siri and Google Now bypass the keyboard entirely, so that the consumer doesn’t have to scroll through a list of options – the mobile device does that for you far more efficiently.

The future is OTA

Following through with this kind of innovation, we see online access being built directly into the product itself. Just as apps make online access faster, easier, and more direct, Over The Air (OTA) information systems will challenge the way brands interact with their followers and customers. Amazon’s Echo exists as a stand-alone wireless household information station, feeding families everything from recipes to product prices without even going to a separate device. Tesla Motors is equipping its cars with online functionality to update and upgrade the software performance in its vehicles. Does the idea of your car getting a software update while it sits in your garage at night sound like science fiction? Think again – it’s already here.[2]

What this means for client/consumer interaction

A landing page will be a thing of the past. A scrolling list of options will seem quaint. Modern aggressive marketing means predicting the needs and interests of the client, bypassing slow and costly access to fulfilling them, and offering direct pipelines to do so, in some cases without even having to ask. The ideal Internet is invisible, seamless, self-sufficient – leaving your customers and clients free to focus on all the exciting products and services your company has to offer.

[1] http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/
[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-25/those-pesky-software-updates-now-coming-to-a-car-near-you

 

Move to the Music

 

Selecting workout music can be a difficult task so why not let you body do the choosing? Cue the Jalapeño Beat Maker, a waterproof music player that lets your body movement control the tunes it plays. The device works in two ways: the Multi-Track mode, which will mix up to four track layers, including drums, guitar, base and vocals, and sync them with your body’s rhythm. The One-Track mode taps into you personal music library and matches the music to your movements. Happy grooving!

Trend Alert: JOMO

 

Between digital detox treatments, meditation apps and the Slow Food movement, it seems 2014 is the year of JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out. “Mindfulness” is the word, and everyone from Arianna Huffington to Maite Baron, CEO of The Corporate Escape, are espousing the benefits of saying no to social (and social media) obligations in order to focus on the here and now, and in turn expand creativity and gain peace of mind. This comes at an interesting time, considering the heavily anticipated wearable technology revolution that Google Glass & Co. will be forging in the upcoming months. To connect or not to connect? That is the question.