Knowing How to Reach Highly-Engaged Digital Users Is Vital to Marketers

Here's a little unscientific but effective marketing
experiment: Walk onto a crowded playground and shout out, "Who wants free toys?"

After you peel the kids off your legs, and explain to their
parents that you're just a poor humble researcher picking grapes off the
research vine, you have something approximating the marketing industry hysteria
that greets the evolving possibilities of mobile as a brand platform.

You will also have two key findings:

  • More than one kid will ask if you have a different toy,
    because even though this is free, it's not exactly what they wanted, and
  • Toys are an expensive way to learn that consumers, even really short ones, have
    high expectations.

Mobile, arguably the most personal of consumer devices, is
not as wide-open a marketing prairie as brands wish it were. To begin with,
while the technology exists to use it to have a brand/consumer "conversation,"
consumers can get prickly about using the device that was built for personal
conversations -- whether text or voice or social -- to have brands give them a shout-out.

Then there are the challenges of screen size, and
permissions, and whatever else consumers are doing to block brand messaging.

However, as we are very fond of saying, consumers are in
control, and they actually do want to have connections to brands. They are the
ones choosing those connections, often based on that brand's ability to engage
them. And one of the most widely accepted, and still misunderstood, conduits
for those true connections is apps.

We conducted a large-scale study of how engagement with
digital communication platforms intersects brand engagement; among the
findings: mobile apps showed up as a truly viable way to reach out to
consumers -- one that consumers actually sought out, once they decided to engage
in a brand relationship. Yet, consumers are often disappointed with how apps
are designed. Of course, it's not that brands are trying to make apps less than
ideal. It's simply that the brands don't possess an understanding of how mobile
apps actually connect up to the category where the brand does business.

Let's take the credit card category as an example.

We looked at two key audiences in this study: the general population
folks who use a credit card, and Higitals -- the name we have given to those
consumers, in any category, who breathe the High Digital Usage air at the top
20% of the digital usage mountain, within the context of the category. As all
marketers now understand, engagement with digital communication platforms
shape-shifts category to category. But in every category, it's vital to measure
those who are highly engaged with digital. Those are the consumers that help
brands predict their future. That's always worth making a note of when profits
are something you're after.

First, Higitals look at the entire credit card category

  • They have higher expectations (see opening "toy" story,
    though some may be taller in real life)
  • "Brand Rep and Fees" are more important to them
  • Mobile apps work completely differently, intersecting with an entirely
    different driver-of-category engagement

For the general population consumer, mobile apps -- in an ideal
world -- connect up to customer service items. Apps are also a way to get access
to live representatives that can answer their questions. In short, they want
mobile apps to work as a kind of speed-dial, where problems using their credit
cards can be resolved then and there. For credit card brands, building that
kind of access into their app technology is good business.

And then there are the Higitals, who frankly aren't
concerned about talking to humans. In fact, if you can make sure they don't
have to, you score points with them. No handholding please: They are busy multiplatforming.
Mobile apps link up to the Benefits and Rewards driver, the convenience of
finding out right now -- at a point of purchase -- if your value-adds are going to
make using this card better than another. Generally speaking, they are interested
in how many different choices you give for their ever-more-customized life...and
they would like all this information very quickly.

If brands are serious about engaging with digital media, it's
time to stop shouting "toys!" in a crowded playground. Connecting digital media
to how a brand engages its consumers is not a childish dream. It's here, and
should be on the list of demands of every grown-up marketer.