2012: The Year of the Social Consumer
From Papa Johns tweeting a formal apology to an annoyed customer, to Nike‘s impressive user-generated campaign, ‘The Chosen‘, 2011 was a year when the social consumer made her presence felt. Rather than being mere recipients of marketing messages, today’s consumers are engaged with brands, contribute to campaigns and exchange product information; an indication that people’s buying behavior has evolved over the years. While the likes of Nike, Dell and Coca-Cola have worked towards strengthening the brand-customer relationship, there are a few others who are yet to understand who their customers are, what their needs are and how best these can be met. According to research conducted by the Pivot team, in partnership with the Hudson Group:
- 23% companies felt that they didn’t know their customers as well as they should.
- 76.8% were confident about their understanding of the social consumer.
Although the above research indicates that some brands need to work towards getting to know their customers better, the fact that a majority of companies actually invested time and resources for the betterment of their relationship with customers shows that 2011 was a year when a) social media advanced rapidly as a communication channel b) the brand-customer relationship was cemented further c) marketers made themselves available for customers via networking channels d) customers increasingly depended on social CRM for assistance.
As far as 2011 is concerned, we would say it was mixed bag with its fair share of success stories as well as instances where marketers could have better engaged with their customers. That was then; as far as predicting exactly how 2012 will span out, the major challenge for marketers is keeping up with ever-changing tastes of the social consumer and the dynamism of the digital space. Let us look at how online marketers are prepping up for, what we call, ‘the year of the social consumer‘:
- Retaining and engaging with customers continues to be one of the biggest challenges for marketers; which is why, in 2012 businesses will develop more effective customer loyalty strategies (Loyalty 360).
- Brands will focus more on customer loyalty and retention vs. acquiring more customers (Protiviti).
- Increased focus on daily-deals sites.
- Following the launch of Google+ Pages for Business, brands are expected to target the growing user base of this channel in 2012.
The relationship between brands and customers and the level of engagement is likely to affect how consumers shop online and their loyalty towards a brand. For online marketers, having a better understanding of consumer trends means better chances at success, improved returns and building up of a loyal customer base. In a two part series, the Brand Monitor Team has researched and unearthed some key consumer trends, which will give marketers an idea of what they can expect from the social consumer in 2012.
Social Consumers and their Relationship with Mobile Devices
In August 2011, eMarketer predicted that almost 100 million consumers in the U.S. will be on the mobile web by the end of the year, with this number expected to increase to nearly 113 million by 2012. The rapid expansion in the smartphone and mobile internet market is a testimony to the fact that the modern consumer is time-strapped, constantly on the move and expects instant access to information. This means online retailers and marketers can expect to see an exponential increase in mobile usage by their consumers in 2012. Let us look at what social consumers are likely to use their mobile devices and smartphones for:
- Mobile Coupons: The number of consumers redeeming mobile coupons will jump to 28.7 million, or 13.5%, in 2012, says a study by eMarketer. According to Noah Elkin, principal analyst at the research firm, the growth in use of mobile is being driven by a number of factors, including the fast-growing adoption of smartphones by consumers and subsequent increased use of the mobile web and mobile apps. This means, in 2012 and going forward, retailers will have to increase focus on making mobile coupons available to consumers via various apps and m-commerce sites.
- Change in Mode of Retail Payments: The launch of Google Wallet (in the USA) in the second half of 2011 signaled a shift in the method of retail payments. With Forrester predicting that by 2016 consumers may say goodbye to their traditional wallets and use their handsets for transactions, retailers need to keep in mind the impact of mobile wallets as they design their customer loyalty programs. Starbucks, for instance, allows consumers to make mobile payments through the use of a mobile app. The Starbucks mobile app is very popular on both Blackberry and iOS.
- M-Commerce & Networking Activities: In 2012, we expect to see significant growth in the m-commerce space as well as an increase in social networking via mobile and smartphones. From purchasing directly via Facebook, to posting product reviews on social networks and using location based services to find stores, today’s consumer prefers using mobile devices over PCs and laptops. With mobile internet usage expected to soon overtake desktop internet usage, the future of m-commerce sure looks optimistic.
Our research on what influences purchase decisions online showed that word-of-mouth and consumer reviews and recommendations have played a significant role in the e-commerce space in the last few years. User-generated content, which contributed to some winning social media campaigns in 2011, is expected to further gain momentum in 2012. Here’s why we think marketers and brands should focus on user-generated content going forward:
- Consumers Want to Contribute to Marketing Content: With the voice of the social consumer set to grow significantly in 2012, we won’t be surprised to see users increasingly contributing to marketing content over the next few months. This is an excellent opportunity for online marketers to convert these social-savvy consumers into ‘brand advocates’, allowing them to be a part of the brand’s promotional strategy. Coca-Cola, for instance, has been ranked number one in social media marketing thanks to user-generated content. The company’s “Happiness is…” campaign, launched just after Christmas, features plenty of user-generated content on Tumblr.
- Reviews & Recommendations Are Highly Valued: Consumers greatly value product recommendations and reviews posted by other shoppers and expect brands to feature these on their social media pages and websites. From YouTube videos demonstrating how to use a product, to consumers posting either positive or negative reviews, content that comes from other customers is much more valued than content that is posted by brands themselves. As the year progresses, we expect to see increased dependence on user-generated content in the form of reviews and recommendations. For marketers, the task ahead lies in harnessing the concept of ‘social proof’ to influence prospective customers.
While user-generated content will be the next big thing in the online marketing space this year, another area that marketers need to focus on will be the growing use of mobile devices and smartphones by consumers. Our research on consumer trends in 2012 indicates that brands will also have to keep in mind an important, rapidly growing demographic while designing their online marketing strategies; i.e. women. In addition to this, part two of this series will also explore the bargain hunting trend, and will find out if this will continue to influence consumers’ purchasing behavior in 2012.