The rise of the hyper-connected customer


Welcome to the age of hyperconnectivity. Pew tells us 64% of Americans now own a smartphone. The UK communications regulator OFCOM says people in the UK spend two hours online on their smartphones every day.  The latest ONS Internet Access research shows that 76% of adults bought goods or services online so far this year.

So what does this mean for retailers? Broad brush, it means get to your consumers using the internet or fade away. Nobody says this is easy. KPMG’s rather depressing opener to its 2014 report Business in the Hyper-connected world points out that all the new digital options available to sellers open new ‘windows’ for more efficient customer engagement, (as well as for engagement with employers, stakeholders and partners), but that alongside such opportunities also come threats that make doing business on both a global and local level far more complex than ever before.

The Economist Intelligence Unit is even bolder. Its global study of 561 executives across a range of industries, nearly half of which have annual revenues of over US$5bn, draws some pretty stark conclusions about hyperconnectivity. Hyperconnected Organisations: how businesses are adapting to the hyperconnected age reports that 59% of survey respondents say failing to adapt to hyperconnectivity is their company’s greatest challenge. In the retail sector the figure jumps to 68%. Perhaps it should be higher if we consider the number of companies which have disappeared from the high street at least in part because of the rise and rise of online retail.

Still, two thirds say hyperconnectivity offers more opportunities than threats. This genuinely bullish attitude is encouraging, but realising the opportunities may require root and branch rethinking of attitudes towards consumer relations, selling, and how the internet fits into the mix.

Be more Nike

What’s a company to do in the face of all this challenge, with opportunity dangling before it like a big juicy carrot?

The rather glib sounding answer is to be more Nike. By running social campaigns using platforms that its young, lifestyle chasing consumers enjoy, Nike continues to reinvent itself as an aspirational brand. Its Instagram-based PHOTOiD campaign which let fans generated custom Nike shoes based around the colours of Instagram photos sounds trite but was in fact a successful marketing and sales tool directed squarely at a significant tranche of the customer base. 

Companies need to be adventurous in their use of new platforms and agile in adapting to trends. While Nike’s strategies are often all about brand, sometimes it will be important to go beyond brand and follow trends to get a toehold.

Consider Liketonowit. Once they’ve signed up users can like a photo on instagram to be sent an email with shopping links to the products in that photo. Here the sell is all about the photo, aided by social sharing which legitimises the aspirations it embodies. A sort of user generated marketing campaign pushed by evangelists who might not even know your brand.  

The spoilt customer

KPMG points out the stark truth in all of this when it says that the tech-savvy customer is “spoilt for choice and pampered.” If provider A doesn’t deliver the high level of attention, offer goods that meet precise needs, and appear on the platforms they want to use, another provider will.

In many instances this means abandoning long development cycles and marketing strategies for online products and instead being responsive to new trends. And this needs to happen while online services are developing and changing with a rapidity that must put many older, established companies with traditional product and marketing lifecycles into a tailspin of anxiety.

The EIU report is spot on when it suggests companies don’t yet realise quite how radically they will need to change over the coming years. Just 19% had installed a chief digital officer, for example. The EIU says companies need to be hyperconnected from the top down. That sounds right.  

Sandra Vogel

Sandra has been writing about technology for more than 15 years, with books, newspaper columns and a myriad of articles published. Prior to that she was a senior information management professional in the charity sector. She enjoys discovering how technology can make our lives and our work more effective at all levels, and in sharing what she learns with others.