Marketing to the technology consumer
How large companies and emerging apps are marketing to the end-consumer. It's a wild and wonderful (and complex) time to be in marketing. Catering to the tech-savvy user is now the norm, and companies are getting better at this art and science.
“Today’s consumers are tech-savvy and expect a personalized, engaging experience that seamlessly integrates digital and physical channels.”
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
Marketing to consumers is changing
In a great article How Marketing Changes When Shopping Is Automated, Niraj Dawar argues today’s marketing is predicated on brands sending messages to customers through multiple marketing, mobile, and social channels in an effort to generate interest then, hopefully, a sale. “The largest advertisers in the world are companies such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Unilever, which sell branded low-involvement products that are routinely purchased and consumed at a regular pace,” says Dawar. However, the billions of dollars spent every year to keep these fast-moving consumer products in the top of the mind of their consumers might be better spent elsewhere. Dawar envisions a future where retailers know their customers’ buying habits so well, they will send products based on when the retailers’ algorithms believes replenishment is required. The IoT will be a big part of this future; smart sensors in smart refrigerators will order groceries as needed; smart cars and intelligent computers will order spare parts with predictive asset maintenance ensuring parts will be replaced proactively. “Products will flow to the household like a utility,” says Dawar. Purchasing decisions will be handled by an AI bot or machine learning algorithm, and the consumer's only job will be to do what that word literally means—consume.
“Marketing to technology consumers requires understanding not only their immediate needs but also their future aspirations. Technology is not only a product, but a vision of the future, and marketers who can connect their products to that vision will be the most successful in capturing the hearts and wallets of technology consumers.”
Steven Van Belleghem, author of The Conversation Company and Customers the Day After Tomorrow.
In a connected world, spending billions to remind a consumer to buy a brand’s products will be deemed particularly wasteful. Instead, advertising dollars will be combined with CRM and customer loyalty budgets to help build long-lasting and rewarding customer relationships. “Challenging incumbents, increasing rates of consumption, and influencing algorithm designers and owners” should be the stated goal says Dawar. Influencing algorithms, in particular, will be prized, with a specific emphasis on becoming a native or default brand in a phone, tablet or PC’s pre-installed software choice.
And speaking of devices, today, 90% of smartphone and PCs users don’t bother even changing their default device settings says Dawar. So that means there are default brand opportunities, (remember when Windows shipped with all sorts of pre-installed products?) “Incumbents will benefit from raised barriers to entry, and challengers, at least in routinely consumed product categories, will have to break through the inertia not just of consumers but also of programmed bots—a much tougher inertia to overcome,” contends Dawar. This is a golden opportunity for brands to become default brands and Dawar recommends brand use their marketing dollars to reach the goal of becoming that default rather than trying to remain in the consciousness of their consumers. This could be an interesting end-around for new brands arising. Challengers to the status quo—or the status quo’s default settings—should figure out smart ways to convince potential consumers to change their default settings as so much is riding on those.
“Much of marketing strategy today rests on the idea that consumers are imperfect interpreters of advertising and marketplace information,” claims Dawar. However, that might be oversimplifying things. Buyers are certainly subjective to cognitive biases such as selective attention and retention of information, but the advertising industry is hardly innocent in its use of psychology to convince buyers to purchase the products it’s trying to sell – many times items that are not just unnecessary but superfluous. The advertising industry skillfully uses psychological methods such as the endowment effect, the foot-in-the-door technique, the framing effect, loss aversion, the decoy effect, the availability heuristic, and the scarcity principle to move its products. However, Dawar makes the argument that these techniques will become pretty useless when it’s a bot that needs to be converted. “If routine decisions are made by bots, not humans, marketers need to speak to the bots — and bots tend to do what they are told, without cognitive biases,” argues Dawar. Research should be “focused on understanding the points of influence of bots: What are their sources of data? Which criteria are they programmed to optimize? And what are their learning algorithms? Research on consumers will focus on strategic issues such as understanding consumption patterns and maintaining brand loyalty,” contends Dawar.
The tech-savvy consumer appetite
Today's technology consumers are generally more tech-savvy than previous generations, but there is still a wide range of technological literacy among individuals. Some designated as tech savvy have only a cursory conception of the underlying scientific basis of a tech product. For example, many “tech savvy” individuals believe that “5G” refers directly to a rate of information transfer. They have no idea that it actually refers to a frequency of microwave radiation. Some of these superficially tech savvy individuals are ardent patrons of technology products. Others are neither innovators or early adopters, but they are often the tech guru for a surprising number of people who follow their lead. Their value as the target of marketing is clear.
While many younger consumers are digital natives who have grown up with technology, older generations may not have had the same level of exposure or experience. Additionally, while some consumers may be proficient in using certain technologies, they may not be as knowledgeable about others. The tech savvy consumer, regardless of generation or precise level of foundational knowledge, avidly seeks knowledge regarding these products and actively demonstrates this knowledge to others. The savvy marketer wants this consumer in his or her court...
Technology is constantly evolving, so even the most tech-savvy consumers need to continuously learn and adapt to new products and platforms. Technology consumers may have varying levels of technological literacy, but the tech savvy group discussed above may be groomed to be essentially an unpaid spokesperson for the brand. It's important for marketers to understand their target audience's preferences and behaviors in order to effectively leverage their marketing efforts.
Tech savvy at the next level goes beyond these patrons of technology to understand those who are very familiar with technology. Understanding this particular type of consumer is built upon the tech savvy consumer architype. Knowledge of the tech savvy as well as the truly scientifically learned will also serve in understanding those who do not consider themselves technologically savvy. Appreciation of these differences among consumers informs the marketers choice of channel as well as content to reach these various market segments.
The role of software developers and software products in consumer adoption
The key part that we haven’t talked about yet, is how developers fit into this mix. They are so critical to creating a product that consumers adopt, proliferate, and embrace. But not all developers are the lynchpins. Only the key, focal-point devs fit this categorically. Often times these are consultants or contractors that are bought in to spearhead a new endeavor. These developers are the critical mass. Satya Nadella calls them citizen developers, and their work is fundamental to product creation. He went on to say in his 2022 global keynote speech, that their involvement and the products that result, along with collaboration process within leveraging such products, can “bend the productivity curve for an entire organization.”
The role of UI designers and UI product owners in consumer adoption
This product user experience thing is so critical. It’s night and day for some apps/products. And every designer that is brought in late in the game will tell you, you really should have thought about design from the beginning. Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not how it looks. It’s how it works.” This phrase that epitomized the issue was reportedly said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal in May 2003, in which Jobs discussed the design philosophy behind Apple's products.
Finely tuned design case study: TikTok
It’s in the fine-tuning of products that mastery and dominance is born. A great example of fine-tuning consumer products would be TikTok.
TikTok is the sugar-coated, genZ-focused, dopamine-driven endless scrolling app that seems to have taken over our teenage kids’ lives. It’s seen a meteoric surge in popularity over the last few years, with a global user base increase of 80% since 2020, reaching 834.3 million in 2023, with projections to hit nearly 1 billion users by 2025. In the US alone, there are 150 million monthly TikTok users and 5 million American businesses users. Compared to other social media platforms, TikTok now has a higher engagement rate, with US adults spending an average of 56 minutes per day on the platform. TikTok has become the most-downloaded app in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. TikTok users watch 197.8 million hours of videos daily, which is over 11 times more than Instagram users watch Reels. Moreover, 73% of consumers report feeling a stronger connection to brands they interact with on TikTok, and 67% said TikTok inspired them to shop even when they were not intending to do so. So ya, this thing blew up. And yes, it’s big now, (who knows if the US will ban it but for now it’s killing the game.) But before all the growth, there were years of trial-and-error user interface refinement and infrastructure / latency work.
TikTok’s origin story starts with Chinese parent company, ByteDance. It acquired hot startup Musical.ly, and immediately merged it with it’s own lip-synching app called Douyin. That move instantly added 100 million users, and boosted an international audience. But it was still a rough app, not so slick and fast, and the video quality was always tricky to get right. Some of our team members recall the app in its early days. Shawn Livermore, a consultant at Product Perfect, was an early user. “I was just exploring the app and its features, looking at it back in 2017 and 2018. It was not fast, not simple, and the content was a mix of weird stuff and kid stuff. I also think the latency issues and video-in-app issues were still a thing back then, where a few times where the video seemed to lag. It was also catering very narrowly to what I would consider the Snapchat audience. But I could see the potential that it would continue to be the wave of the future, where kids / teens would just keep scrolling from one 5-10 second video to the next. It reminded me of the short video app experiment, Vine, which Twitter bought and later shut down.” The app kept working on its user experience from 2016 to 2017, a full years’ worth of rework and refinement, before being rebranded as the more internationally-friendly name of TikTok, in 2017. That’s when it became less weird for 13 year olds to share it to their friends. Slick name, funny videos, and new content creators started piling in. The revenue started rising from there along with the user base. But the real key was that subtle user experience and user interface adjustments perpetually increased the adoption rates.
Ray Cao is Managing Director, Global Head of Product Strategy & Operations at TikTok. He described his approach on a podcast back in 2021. He focused on the user’s mindset. He asked, “How can we be more organic?” and it stems into his design philosophy around testing and iteration. “We learn a lot from our industry peers.... continuously testing and getting input from users... It’s baseline... fundamental to really knowing your user and your market.”
Marketing technology based products to consumers requires knowledge of marketing, particularly the high tech aspects such as digital marketing and consumer databases that inform CRM. It also requires knowledge of tech savvy consumers, as they are often influencers of many others...
- Tech savvy consumers; seduce that group and you’re halfway there.
- Focus on really knowing your target audience intimately well, understanding their needs and preferences from their perspective, rather than from your own perspective or guesses.
- Highlight benefits on how your product will improve their lives and, how much time and effort is required from the consumer.
- Use clear language, avoiding technical jargon.
- Focus on user experience; it’s an absolute must; mandate: simple and intuitive.
- Leverage social media to connect with your audience. Pro-tip: success stories are more interesting than marketing jargon or marketing ad-speak.
- Offer demonstrations so prospects can also experience your products.
- Partner with consumer influencers to build brand awareness.
- Use email marketing to share news, updates, and exclusive offers. Never SPAM. Only send out email to consumers that opt-in.
- Emphasize security to assure customers that their data is 100% safe.
- Continuously innovate to stay ahead of the competition and meet consumer demands.