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For a long time the good people who market brands and look to build loyalty have understood that changes in demographics almost always equals a shift in how people see the world. However, the demographic lens has really only in the last 10-15 years been effectively widened beyond gender, age and income. Today, brand marketers often employ segmentation models that are based more on attitude, lifestyle and behaviors, as some media outlets play catch-up to present its audience for brands’ considerations beyond traditional demographics.

Why does all this matter when it comes to building loyalty? Because models of both media and messaging are being stress-tested by something called "digital."

Digital is a small word that covers a lot of territory, but is commonly used to describe both the methods for delivery and for obtaining information – including advertising and brand/consumer conversations. Behind closed doors, most brands will admit to having far too little insight for comfort in this area, but boldly they go, following the huddled masses yearning to access freely, whether that's friendships, information, or entertainment.

Fishing where the fish are makes sense, of course. But brands that are paying close attention to this area already understand that they don't understand, not exactly, if they are really optimizing their digital loyalty efforts. For now, they are in a mode of imitation, such as on Facebook, where brands are acting like people, posting pictures and giving status updates, hoping that kind of engagement will ultimately create some kind of loyalty bond. Or they are finding out what particular technologies can do, and creating according to those capacities. In short, following the technology more than strategy.

There is a very good reason for this. When it comes to digital, usage studies abound that concern themselves with what people are doing, how they are using digital, in terms of sheer counts. It did not take long to identify the demographic profile of those people, as one of the most salient benefits of the digital space is the ability to target with precision.  Then, as a natural evolution, the next step was to link attitudinal information to the demographics of the usage of digital.  That leaves us where most brands are today – participating in digital platforms where their identified customers are going. And it makes sense, though it's limited.

There is a caveat here, and it's a rather large one – thus the hushed whispers in brand hallways about what they are doing in digital. While brands have tracked down their peeps, they have come to realize quickly that they now have to say something that matters to them. In short, to create a winning strategy based on how digital functions in their category. To accomplish that, digital platforms and brand strategy need to meet. And not in a close-enough, off-hand way, where general knowledge of the category is superimposed on digital media planning. That won’t work as well as you wish it would.

Why? Because, as it turns out, digital platform engagement differs by category, and, what's more, the way someone engages with digital can drastically change how they view the category altogether. And how loyalty should work digitally in the category. Our work on the Digital Platform Engagement Index absolutely proves that!

Thus our return to demographics. One of the most significant demographic differences we are seeing when it comes to how people choose brands that they’ll remain loyal to is the difference between those who use digital a lot, and those in the general population. Digital usage is far more than just another way to buy stuff for many people.

An examination of those who choose to engage with a category and sit at the top 20% of the digital-usage/involvement spectrum demonstrates a drastically different way of how they “see” and what they expect from a category, and an entirely different way of approaching the engagement-buying-loyalty decision. As well as how they see digital working in the category space. In short, these "higitals" are not only high users, but that usage moves with a different way of seeing the brand world.

These findings matter to all of us who deal with building loyalty to brands, because they bear witness to what we have suspected all along: a change is indeed afoot, as Sherlock Holmes reminds us. We need nothing less than an explosion of previous limitations if we are truly to understand and strategically and effectively participate in that change.

Amy Shea, EVP Global Director of Brand Keys’ Brand Development, has worked with brands for over 20 years, translating research-based insights into effective communications. Her background spans every facet of communications, having led teams in aligning both internal & external communications with a brand’s identity. All this comes with experience in media and a deep background in marketing research. Her work has been recognized with IBM with the David Ogilvy Excellence Award, taking both the Grand Ogilvy and 1st in Category for the research conducted on IBM’s integrated campaign on infrastructure. Amy’s work with the AAAA/ARF Committee to Study Emotional Response in Advertising, Amy led the research and published her findings on what is considered the gold standard in branded entertainment: BMW online films.

A sought-after presenter, Amy brings a direct and creative perspective to the conference stage. She presents on brand development, communications, & differentiation in the US, Europe, and Asia. Her academic background includes an undergraduate degree earned by the University of New Hampshire, with joint studies at Harvard University.

 

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