Shifts in Expectations, Experiences, and Anxieties

2010 is coming to an end, and with it a decade of incredible innovation we’ll pass the baton to a new decade with high hopes. Digital technology has played a huge role in shaping media in this decade and it will continue to do so in the future.

Many marketing gurus have explained effects of technology on media through various tangible shifts with respect to time, place, and shape. On-demand delivery of content has liberated people from following a fixed schedule to watch their favourite shows (time shift). Content is now travelling across the globe and breaking the geographical (and political) boundaries (place shift). Most importantly, it has empowered people to reshape content to meet their own device and platform requirements (shape shift). These shifts are currently disrupting well-established marketing models and giving us an opportunity to create new approaches.

These tangible shifts are important, but the impact of digital technology has been significantly deeper. We now live in a world where people are addicted to compulsive entertainment, hyper-connectivity, and endless choice. As a result, new waves are getting created around expectations, experiences, and anxieties. Let us look at the characteristics of these waves and their impact in the future.

Shifting Expectations

Digital is changing our expectations constantly and we now expect more out of every piece of technology. We want all our devices to provide entertainment and also have the ability to connect to social platforms on a 24/7 basis. We write messages well past midnight and expect almost instantaneous responses. We expect the very best from different brands irrespective of our geographical location. For example, many people criticised the iPad for not having a camera. Many were agitated that Twitter’s new design or Facebook Places was not available to global audiences at the same time as their American friends. Fans of the TV drama “24? didn’t like the spoilers on Facebook and wanted to see the actual episodes.

Disappointment or agitation often emerges out of real-time global connectivity. Increased expectations are making things difficult for marketers across all aspects – product development, distribution, go-to-market timing, innovation, pricing, and most importantly relationship management. Marketers need to realize that they’re no longer marketing inside a particular geography; now the world is one common marketplace.

Shifting Experiences

Digital has given a completely new dimension to our experiences. In the good old days, our experiences were momentary and largely shared through face-to-face interactions. Social platforms changed that completely. Now our experiences go beyond the original moment and are getting shared in real time. People in our socio-graphs can choose to participate in a particular experience or can simply observe it. Digital has also given a sense of permanency as experiences can be stored in the form of videos, photos, tweets, comments, blogs, etc. All of them are searchable and accessible at a later point in time. For example, our leisure travel photographs and videos are shared through Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube. We upload them as we go along and get comments from our social circles. Some friends voluntarily provide tips that can enhance our on-ground experience and some friends get inspired by what we post. Similarly, party experiences, celebrity interactions, and even innovative product experiences are shared actively.

In effect, digital has increased the shelf life of our experiences with a built-in element of interactivity. Therefore, marketers need to go beyond the moments of actual brand experience and develop platforms that can extend the shelf life.

Shifting Anxieties

Choice is good. Excessive choice is a challenge. Infinite choices make things difficult. Digital revolution has created infinite choices in terms of channels, content, platforms, and devices. It is quite difficult to manage social presence across six different platforms, update apps on three different devices (with 50 features each), watch content from hundreds of sources, and sift through an array of channels. It not only leads to confusion but also creates anxiety. ‘Consumer in control’ is a fancy statement but in actuality consumers seem to be in crisis. We only have finite time (24 hours in a day) and that is not going to change. So people will have to either increase their ability to parallel process or pay partial attention to all the choices. Either way, it’s not a good thing for brands and content owners.

The good news is that people need help. They need someone to simplify things for them so that they can get the best out all the possible choices. Brands can play an important role in reducing anxiety. Think ofa brand as a museum curator. Curators usually separate the best from the ordinary and fact from fiction. Imagine going to a museum and seeing hundreds of fake objects with some fictional stories before you realise that the collection is worthless. By taking the curator approach, brands can help consumers separate worthwhile choices from relatively worthless ones. It will certainly help in reducing anxiety of people bombarded with choice.

We’re about to step into an interesting decade where technology will continue to drive innovation and disrupt established models. So in order to stay relevant, marketers will have to understand the impact of technology on human conditions and aspirations.

(Originally published on Dec. 21, 2010 on ClickZ.Asia.)