Digital Marketing Essentials

9 Brand Experiences Reaching Today’s Sophisticated Consumer

Face it: things have changed since the birth and widespread adoption of the Internet in the 1990s. As technology has evolved, so has the sophistication of the consumer. What does this mean to marketers? We need to stop thinking that traditional marketing techniques alone will work, and we need to fundamentally change the way we approach messaging and tactics. Bottom line: we need to align to the consumers, much more now than ever before, and focus on building better overall brand experiences.

The Era of the Sophisticated Consumer
What we’ve seen over the years is the evolution of the Internet, falling into three pretty distinct eras:

Digital eras

The maturity of social, mobile, and digital in general enables more information at the fingertips of consumers, including a ton more objective information, like peer reviews, beyond just what the brand controls.  eMarketer reports, “Consumer reviews are significantly more trusted — nearly 12 times more — than descriptions that come from manufacturers, according to a survey of Internet moms in the US by online video review site EXPO.”

In addition, showrooming—treating retail stores like product showrooms and ultimately purchasing online—is making a major impact on retail: a recent poll determined that 40% of Americans have showroomed, and almost 60% of those ultimately buy from  And McKinsey & Company estimates that 66% of customer touchpoints are beyond brand control.

The 3 Digital Marketing Essentials

Like it or not, this era of the sophisticated consumer is the new normal. While marketing’s focus has always been on the consumer, not many brands today are executing well in this new environment of heightened consumer expectation. Within this new context, in the flood of all the information available to consumers, how can we marketers connect with consumers, endear ourselves to them, and ultimately get them to engage (purchase, advocate, like/follow, repurchase, etc)?  I suggest three essentials for crafting your marketing messages, content, and campaigns, as well as 9 brands that are doing it well.  Do you need to address all three every single time?  Well, that would be challenging, for sure.  But if you don’t focus on any one of the following three, I suggest you go back to the drawing board.

  1. Be human
  2. Be useful
  3. Be delightful


1. Be Human

Regardless of the marketing channel – search, mobile, email, display, social – be human.  There’s an old saying, “people like to work with people they like.”  It’s true, right?   And the same is true for forming a relationship with consumers (ahem… I mean other humans.)  Your customers don’t want a “relationship” with a big, monolithic organization that simply wants them to be brand loyal. Your brand should have a personality, too – don’t be afraid to show it (as long as it’s authentic), and treat customers like the humans that they are.  Here are some examples that stand out in my mind:

  • Rather than the boring, standard order and delivery confirmation messages, 1-800-flowers put the effort into making me feel good after I ordered flowers
  • Mars, Inc / Snickers A pretty ingenious paid search strategy of bidding on commonly misspelled words and presenting users with a humorous Snickers plug pays off big for Mars, Inc.
  • NASA Yes, I’m actually impressed by a brand’s activity on Google+. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has become an internet phenomenon and completely humanized the experience of living on the International Space Station when NASA held a hangout on their Google+ page interviewing Chris and two other astronauts.

2. Be Useful

If you find a way to solve someone’s problem, help them with tasks, or improve day-to-day experiences, you will make an impact that people will remember, talk about, and thank you for.  Here are some great, useful marketing tactics in action:

  • Lowe’s A six-second limit to video messages is rather daunting, but Lowe’s has embraced the brevity dictated by Vine videos (now owned by Twitter), with truly helpful answers to common, frustrating problems around the house.  Need to remove a stripped screw?  Just take a quick look at their handy Vine video.
  • VISA helps teach high school kids budgeting skills for one of their first expensive life events: prom (average in the U.S. is over $1,100!)  Their Plan’it Prom mobile app is equally as fun as it is useful.
  • Columbia Sportswear Columbia’s mission is to help people enjoy being outside.  Their free mobile app GPS PAL lets people track their hikes/bike/runs via GPS coordinates, taking pictures and journaling during the trek, and then sharing the adventure with family and friends via social channels.


3. Be Delightful

A recent article on the psychology of emotions behind shareable content concluded that content that elicited a positive, delighted, or hopeful emotion was much more successful as a viral play. So if you’re able to delight your audience, chances are they are going to remember you, as well as amplify your original message. I find the following examples truly delightful:

  • Virgin America Richard Branson never fails to amuse, and “Sir Richard Branson’s Guide to Getting Lucky” video introducing the new “Seat to Seat” continues to deliver.
  • Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” video series has been around for quite some time, but the delight factor and the real business results can’t be denied.  (Seriously, who doesn’t want to put random stuff, like golf balls, iPhones, and foam footballs into a blender?)  They were even overtaken by Bieber Fever, blending Justin Bieber CDs, DVDs, action figures, and unicorns in one episode
  • Zappos made a bold move years ago. Rather than spend their startup dollars on paid advertising, they focused the investment in designing the ultimate customer experience.  They offer free shipping and free returns, which is almost unheard of in online shopping. By focusing so much attention on ensuring customers have an overarching delightful experience (even if the product isn’t exactly what the customer wants), they have fostered a huge following of brand loyal customers: a Zappos customer is 3-4x more likely to purchase again if their first purchase involved a return.

So there you have 9 digital marketing experiences that cover these three digital marketing essentials.  What other brands do you see successfully reaching this new kind of consumer?