As authors, as long as we delve into our memories, we recall studies emphasizing that today’s consumers are decidedly not the same as those of yesterday.
A student memory is that of Bernard Dubois’ writings on the “chameleon consumer,” highlighting that behaviors were more complex and less determined solely by social status.
Let’s succumb to the same sirens about “new” consumers to discuss some of the challenges posed by the characteristics of the digital consumer for businesses.
A Unique Consumer
Mass marketing was built on a passive consumer. Everyone, of course, preserves their freedom of judgment, but the system relies on the power of brands and their ability to influence consumers’ choices in their favor. Founded on behaviorist models, advertising developed in the 1940s based on a simple creed: Repeat, and you will persuade.
The digital consumer becomes active; they want to feel more in control of their consumption. No longer driven by the appetite for possession, they are guided by values of responsibility towards the planet, a rejection of waste. They express a desire to be better informed, avoiding blind consumption, and taking charge of their consumption.
A More Powerful Consumer
One who is less subject to brands, has a say, and expresses it on social networks and review sites (such as TripAdvisor). The role of marketing has always been to allow companies to influence their target audiences. Today, the target is an influencer who must be considered and appeased.
A More Active Consumer
Due to its interactive structure, social media has influenced marketing communication activities in the fashion industry as much as in many other areas. Consumers have explored new ways of expressing themselves in this communication process in which they play a more active role than before.
Digital tools in the hands of consumers profoundly change their behaviors and offer new possibilities. They gain expertise, have more means at their disposal to know and compare offers, interact with brands, and, freed from constraints, can learn, exchange, and communicate at any time.
The consumer has become an actor in their consumption. There is a before and after the digital breakthrough. In all previous stages of the consumer society, they were in a passive posture, inundated with advertising stimuli, eventually choosing the brand that spoke the loudest and whose presence in the mind and notoriety outweighed its competitors. For every need, the choice was limited to a few brands.
Now, they are more participative, helping other consumers by giving online reviews or advice on forums, putting pressure on brands by giving good or bad ratings to their purchases. They may also contribute to brands’ offerings through co-creation.
On social networks, they are active and can express indignation if a brand lacks transparency or, conversely, show enthusiasm for a video, which they will share virally with their contacts. In this way, they become a media outlet, conceiving and conveying content about brands that can affect their reputation.
A More Volatile Consumer
In a context where they want to fully exercise their freedom of choice, the customer is no longer captive; on the contrary, they are curious, open to new experiences. However, they quickly become bored and expect novelties. Overwhelmed by information and solicitations, their attention is limited. They experiment with new channels, brands, and offers. The era of the acquired and loyal customer corresponded to the world before, with stable contours.
The consumer is volatile and multi-active online; they like to change, renew, are unfaithful and capricious. Opportunities abound; they are hyper-solicited, whether through brand notifications, SMS, apps, promotions, or deals. When deciding to make a purchase, sometimes impulsively online, they are increasingly in a short-term logic, expecting instant gratifications.
They are everywhere and, at the same time, not really there. They engage and disengage according to their intuitions. With an average of six screens per household, they are increasingly connected and, paradoxically, more challenging to reach.
A More Pragmatic Consumer
The digital consumer, in some of their choices, tends to value objects more for their utility than possession. The value of use takes precedence over the value of image. On the one hand, they are tired of planned obsolescence, true-false innovations, and the limits of accumulating everyday consumer goods.
On the other hand, they now have the means to escape it through the possibilities offered by digital. Yesterday, the only choice was between buying new or used. Today, their range of choices has expanded; buying a product is no longer automatic. Access to a service or product can be done in multiple ways and at all prices.
The digital consumer is pragmatic, more sensitive to price, exposed to a higher level of budgetary constraint, not hesitating to make new trade-offs, giving up ownership on certain consumption items to preserve their purchasing power. Sometimes, they even reverse the model temporarily by becoming a service provider to reduce their costs or generate additional income. They no longer hesitate to use digital tools to optimize their purchasing power, wanting to pay the right price and caring about the resale value of the goods they acquire.
A More Demanding Consumer
The enhanced consumer knows where to find sources of information on offers and brands to consume rationally. They use many sources such as brand websites, forums, consumer reviews, and product testing sites.
Their consumption culture is high; they are well-versed in marketing and can distinguish good opportunities from vague promises. They become content and advice producers through reviews, tutorials, a blog, or a YouTube channel. Well-informed, they sometimes become as knowledgeable as a car dealership seller or a beauty advisor, posing new challenges for brands.
A Consumer Seeking Personalization and Relationship
Digital allows addressing people with whom one has a dialogue, not passive and abstract targets. The ability to establish an individualized relationship, to offer personalized answers to questions, is crucial to generate and maintain brand preference.
In their media consumption, the consumer has become accustomed to “where I want, when I want.” Gradually, they gain skills by having new consumption experiences and discovering numerous personalized proposals. The notion of personalization is not only about the product; it corresponds to an expectation of a more personalized relationship.
The enhanced consumer, for the brands and retailers they are attached to, wants genuine listening, an understanding of their expectations, the development of services or small attentions to nurture this relationship. The digital world lends itself well to maintaining this link, necessarily more emotional, that connects the consumer to the brand. Having understood the potential of the relationship for brands, Facebook adjusts its strategy and provides the Messenger service for them to use for more instant interaction with their consumers.