Customers do not like to be bombarded with ads

Prof. Arpita Srivastava, XLRI, opines that customers really appreciate companies that respect their time and space.  Marketers have to shift to new tracking and automation capabilities given the rise in digital consumption among customers and at the same time divide between online and offline blurring. She adds that there can be many ways in which a brand can create engaging and informative content, the key to finding ways is understanding how does a customer think and what is he looking for.

Arpita Srivastava, Assistant Professor in the Marketing, XLRI- Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur

IBT: What are digital natives and digital immigrants in your opinion? What were the factors that led to their growth over the years? How has COVID-19 impacted the social media consumption among these groups?

Prof. Arpita Srivastava: The term digital natives and immigrants was popularised by Marc Presnky in 2001 who was an educational consultant. What he meant by these terms was that digital natives are those young kids and teens who have been exposed to the digital world right from their toddlerhood days as opposed to adults who were in their 30s or older.  The older lot got exposed to internet much later probably when they were in college and hence their comfort with internet is much different from a native. Kids handle multiple devices with much better ease than their parents. One of the reasons for this could be greater access to these devices. With parents having multiple devices at home such as laptop, iPad, mobile phones and PlayStation and cheaper internet especially with incoming of JIO, kids have been exposed to internet from a very early age. And parents do give these devices to kids willingly so children become very comfortable in handling these devices.  Interestingly, the lockdown and social distancing practices due to COVID-19 has brought internet even more into our lives.  Pre-schoolers as well as school kids are attending classes online. Since outdoor activities are not encouraged children are consuming more digital content than before. They are playing online games, watching videos and attending video calls. Same is the case with their parents. They are also spending more time online, be it shopping, work or chatting. One of the outcomes of this would be that digital immigrants will end up becoming more comfortable with digital platforms and many would continue to consume more digital content even though things might go back to pre-COVID-19 times.

IBT: While there existed a significant number of digital natives prior to the pandemic, the number of digital immigrants has burgeoned of late. What impact will this (-rising popularity of social media and digitization) have on consumer behaviour?

Prof. Arpita Srivastava: Social media usage among digital immigrants has both increased and changed during the pandemic. Compared to last year, July 2020 saw a rise of 10.5% in social media usage, according to a GlobalWebIndex survey. They reported that 46% of women and 41% of men said they’ve spent more time on social media during the pandemic. If we see around us, we can see similar trends here as well. People are spending their time during lockdown by exploring new platforms, engaging with new entertainers and brands they hadn’t seen previously. For instance, TikTok in April 2020 was the most downloaded app ever in a quarter, accruing more than 315 million installs across the App Store and Google Play. India is their leading region in terms of downloads. One of the reasons for such phenomenal growth of TikTok is that it encourages users to create content and tap into their creativity. With hardly any outdoor activity and staying at home people are looking for content or platforms which are engaging, entertaining and fun. Also, the pandemic situation has given rise to fear and hence consumers now crave for positivity. Brands which give them the above are sought more. Apart from their expectation from brand’s content, people are interested in engaging with brands on digital platform, which translates into brands shouldn’t be just satisfied with having a Facebook page or an Instagram page or ads but have multiple touch points for the users to connect with them.

IBT: How can brands leverage technologies like AI & ML to gain insights into consumer behaviour?

Prof. Arpita Srivastava: Customers do not like to be bombarded with ads or marketing pitches all the time and they really appreciate companies that understand this and respect a customer’s time and space.  ML and AI can help a brand meet a customer when she is most receptive to receive communication. This would not only add to brand’s reputation but also increases brand loyalty.  This increase in the loyalty can also translate into expanding a customer’s lifetime value and this is where ML insights can really help by increasing the basket size of the customer’s purchase. Most customers are happy to get recommendations on related products as it helps them in saving time and sometimes, they may not even know about the related product.  So, it’s a win -win for both the customer and the business.  ML and AI also helps companies in classifying different customers into separate categories and creating strategies accordingly.

One such strategy could be to offer curated customer recommendations based on his purchase history of other products. For instance, if someone is interested in buying a laptop and company has the data that this particular customer is also a gamer, product recommendations could be those laptops which have better media configurations. Sentiment analysis is a great tool that helps brands understand what customers are thinking and interested in.  Using predictive analytics algorithms that have the capability to collect and scrutinize large volumes of data, a prospective customer’s questions can be analysed for choice of words, tone, sentences formation etc. This can help sales reps in preparing their sales pitches accordingly keeping in mind the potential customers pain points.

IBT: What different marketing strategies do brands need to evolve to reach out to digital natives and immigrants? What new age innovations can brand resort to in order to enhance their customer engagement?

Prof. Arpita Srivastava: When targeting a digital native or Gen Z brands have to be very conscious of the words and content, they use to communicate with them. Gen Z are highly aware of social issues and pay attention to political correctness. They are very quick to point out if a brand makes a mistake. For instance, if a brand uses inappropriate terminology or show stereotypes or discriminates, digital natives are quick to point that pout on multiple social media platforms which in turn can ruin a brand’s long-standing reputation.  They value those brands who show concern for environment and have eco- friendly and sustainable business practices.  Gen Z are connected to their peers through digital media and the peers act as influencers in selecting a product. Marketers can take advantage of this and use influencers to promote their brands.  Brands can also invest in more interactive two-way communication options, such as chatbots (powdered by AI) on their platforms when dealing with natives.

It is a misconception with a lot of brands that only younger people or Gen Z are using social media while research has found out that there are a lot of Gen X and older people also on these platforms. These people are typically considered Digital immigrants. One thing that differentiates them from the Digital natives is their expectation of customer service. They have grown up shopping at brick and mortar stores where if they had any question, they could simply walk up to one of the staff to get clarifications. They expect the same from brands even if they are interacting with these brands online. Having a chat option or/and a phone no. for a quick enquiry will help in retaining a digital immigrant. Voice search can be added to the websites as immigrants find it easier to ask than type.

IBT: Given the consumer-choice overload, it’s increasingly difficult to win and hold their attention. In such a scenario, how can brands evolve creative content to maximize customer engagement and their ROI?

Prof. Arpita Srivastava: Creating content which is both engaging and informative for the customer definitely requires lot of hard work. Companies can mange this is by encouraging users to generate content. Creating communities around products and getting existing customers to share their experiences, potential customers to voice their issues and getting resolutions from other community members is one such way. AI and ML can also help in anticipating customers’ needs.  Gamifying content such as creating contests and games with the help of virtual reality could be another way. Even simple contest such as a quiz or treasure hunt can also result in getting customers engaged.  Live video sessions showing unboxing of your product or how the product is made or where it is made or how to troubleshoot can also create engagement along with signalling transparency to the potential customer.

There can be many ways in which a brand can create engaging and informative content, the key to finding ways is understanding how does a customer think and what is he looking for. Most brand managers live and breathe their brands and hence, cannot see their brands from the customer’s viewpoint. Its like if you are inside a cookie jar, you can’t read the label.  Hence, it is important for the managers to walk in the customer’s shoes periodically and ask “What’s in it for me?”.

BT: How can marketers adapt their teams, mind-sets and processes to meet changing consumer preferences while defending their businesses from both traditional and new competitors?

Prof. Arpita Srivastava: Marketers have to shift from traditional ways of brand marketing to “performance branding”.  Due to increase in digital consumption among customers and at the same time divide between online and offline (multi-channel shopping behaviour such webrooming or showrooming for instance) blurring, marketers need to adopt new tracking and automation capabilities. The flood of data gives brands a unique opportunity to re-optimize their strategies across different channels for maximizing impact. This helps in breaking the silos mentality among various team members (offline versus online) and help develop deeper understanding of customer’s behaviour which results in more personalized communication and better campaign performance. Also due to COVID-19 more people are shopping online, entertaining online, socializing online. Thus, it becomes imperative for brands to use attribution tools to understand where the customer is coming from and target those platforms.  Along with right attribution having clear and objective performance marketing KPIs is an important aspect of getting success in these times. The real-time data such as howe many people shared your post or video (shared metrics) is more objective compared to asking a customer what he thinks of your “brand”. Tracking the right KPI is another important aspect that most marketers do not realise. One way to make sure you are tracking the right KPI is by choosing the objective metrics that you believe best capture or measure your brand efforts, then go about getting the tools together to track those metrics and then compare them to the existing brand health scores.  This way everyone who is part of the branding or marketing efforts know what they are looking for when understanding consumer’s mindset, what are the possible shortcomings and how they can address them.

Arpita Srivastava is an Assistant Professor in the Marketing area at XLRI- Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur where she has been a faculty member since 2012. She has obtained her fellowship in marketing (FPM) from Management Development Institute, Gurgaon. She has taught marketing courses to both fresh graduates as well as to graduates with work experience.  Her area of specialization is Digital marketing, Marketing communication and Tourism marketing.  Her elective, Internet Marketing is subscribed every year by the MBA students and is quite popular among them. Arpita has taught both online as well as offline and also has taught students from different nationalities: Indian, Chinese, American, Belgian and Iranian students from Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, USA), Tongji University (Shanghai, China) and Allied Institute of Management Studies (Dubai, UAE). She has published both papers and case studies in International journals and presented her work in various international conferences. The views expressed here are her own and not of her employer.

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