Top 9 Digital Consumer Trends for Financial Marketers

Consumers' digital habits are changing faster than ever. Here how these trends that are already taking root and will grow in importance and affect your strategy in the year ahead.

The amount of information consumers can access is incredible, but the amount of data each human produces is even more startling. Over the last two years alone, 90% of the data in the world was generated. This data is created through searches, social media interactions, communication (email, texts, etc.), digital photos, digital services (Weather Channel, Uber, etc.), and the Internet of Things (voice devices, etc.). By 2020, it’s estimated that for every person on earth, 1.7 MB of data will be created… every second.

Consumers can access information within seconds on an increasing array of devices. As a result, consumer trends are being influenced by people’s ever-growing relationship with their smartphones and the internet, and the impact these devices and data have on their lives. Consumers are aware of this data overload and the pace of change that has occurred. In response, consumers are looking for ways to sort and consume the inputs (and outputs) that are most likely to impact their daily lives.

Being surrounded by increasing “noise” has impacted communication skills as well as our ability to understand the world around us. For some, it has increased the need to become disconnected, while others rely on multitasking to absorb insight.

Tomorrow’s digital consumer craves experiences that are personal. Not simply something with a name on it, but experiences that are unique and uncluttered.  This can present a seemingly insurmountable challenge for companies that are struggling to get recognized or create a connection.

We’re at a tipping point for consumer and business transformation, with globalization, technological change, digital growth, regulatory compliance, a changing economy and the future of work all impacting 2019 digital consumer trends. These trends have the power to dramatically impact the success of brands moving forward.

Change is happening faster than ever before — yet it will never happen this slowly again.

1. Social Media’s Growing Impact

While 2018 was not the best year for social media giants, the impact of social media continues to grow. Despite an inability to stay out of the news, Facebook still dominates the social media marketplace. No matter what platform is being considered, influence will continue to be the engine behind social commerce growth.

Social media is the first place after Google where digital consumers search for products, with the emergence of micro-influencers having an increasing impact on product sales. These people are social media users who have between 1,000 and 20,000 followers and extremely high (real) engagement rates. Interestingly, influencers with around 1,000 followers resulted in more success for the brands they worked with, generating 85% higher engagement than regular influencers (with over 100 thousand followers).

A key component of social media engagement in 2019 will be content marketing. This strategy, when personalized and supported by value propositions, is an excellent way of educating consumers, moving people through the sales funnel, and converting them to customers. The goal will be to stimulate engagement.

Each organization will need to determine which social media strategy makes sense since consumers require authenticity with brands they use and sources they connect with for insight. There is no shortcut to building trust.

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2. Need for Speed

Consumers have an insatiable need for speed. Artificial intelligence and machine learning make possible the ability to process data and deliver solutions in real-time. The consumer knows of these technologies and capabilities and craves an experience similar to Google and Amazon with all of their preferred brands.

Google has refined search to provide instant results to almost any question in the first five or so results. Amazon has altered consumer expectations by delivering highly contextual product options, fast shipping and free returns. This has caused marketers to prioritize the customer experience, part of which requires them to leverage real-time data and advanced analytics to deliver proactive advice and personalized service alternatives.

In the future, engagement will take into account the consumer’s recent activity and current location, combining this insight with the consumer’s expressed interests (either collected or expressed on social media), inferred state of mind and anticipated next actions to deliver options that can begin a human-like conversation.

Speed also matters with product development. Consumers can spot product differentiation. New digital-first alternatives have the ability to build and deploy product and service enhancements faster than legacy providers. The penalty for developing the wrong products — or the right product too slowly — has never been greater. Companies that are able to bring new digital products to market faster will be more likely to generate margins that are favorable and be positioned to survive in the increasingly digital marketplace.

3. Real-Time Research Changes the Customer Journey

Nearly 4 million Google searches occur every minute. Many of these searches are done on a smartphone immediately when a need develops. These instantaneous, mobile-first inquiries give the consumer the power to make buying decisions without any involvement of the solution provider. “The question is no longer just about how to ensure brands appear in key search moments online,” says Brian Solis, ” but also about the type of role brands should play in the conversation – including how they influence and affirm the experiences people are seeking in real life.”

Digital research gives consumers the ability to start their experience earlier in the purchase journey. This creates opportunities for customer engagement that helps customers explore their product and service options ahead of time … without ever visiting a physical facility. These early steps replace the sensations of a physical experience, thus becoming part of the experience itself.

For the skeptical consumer, it allows them to research everything with a fine-tooth comb, wherever they are, on any device they like. These consumers will combine their search results with influencer insights and product specifications to make their final decision.

4. Demand for Value in Exchange for Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

Recent data breaches have illustrated that the value of personally identifiable information (PII) may be as high, or higher than traditional financial information. PII, such as date of birth, email address, social interactions, biometrics, buying behavior, channel use, personal preferences and passwords have become a an increasing target of recent attacks. While hackers can use this information for phishing schemes, there is a need to protect PII in addition to financial information because of the value for personalizing customer experiences.

The impact of Amazon Prime has helped to make consumers aware of the importance of personally identifiable information. While once being a lure for free shipping, consumers now pay in excess of $100 for the personalized experience provided by Amazon. The use of PII by Amazon has also improved trust in the brand and has increased word of mouth marketing and social media influencer support.

Trust in any brand, however, is only as strong as the protection of PII against hackers. 2019 will be the beginning of a period where consumers will only unveil their interests and personal information in return for value. It is expected that technology will be introduced that presents consumers with incentives to provide PII as well as discounts on products for increased engagement (watching ads) and referrals of new customers.

Regulations, such as GDPR in the European Union, are giving consumers the power to determine who can access their PII. This places the burden of security of PII squarely on the companies each consumer engages with. In the end, consumers will expect a tangible value for the use of their personally identifiable information. If they receive this in the form of an enhanced customer experience, the value of this experience will yield trust in the brand.

5. Desire for Humanized Digital Experiences

The myriad of options available to today’s consumers allows them to choose from numerous vendors and explore countless products online. While this choice is a positive, there are still a number of negative forces at work. These include abandoned purchases because the selection process was too difficult (sometimes due to too much choice); the lack of desired recommendations as to the best product to purchase; and the desire for proactive recommendations. In other words, consumers want a trusted “digital concierge” who can use their previous preferences and behavior as a guide for future purchases.

As we found in the Digital Banking Report, “Humanizing the Digital Experience in Banking“,  there are opportunities to move beyond pushing products, and to instead provide digital personalized assistance. With a diminishing differentiation on features like price and delivery, brands that offer humanized assistance on digital channels will drive long-term business growth.

The key to “humanizing the customer experience” is authenticity, and using data and advanced analytics to create a customer-focused engagement platform in which all interactions are personalized. Moving from traditional product planning and selling focused on product goals, organizations will need to focus on long-term relationships and on “partnerships” with customers. This partnership will be based on the consumer’s goals but has the potential to generate more, longer-lasting relationships.

A humanized digital experience makes use of all available data to build a 360-degree view of each individual customer. Engagement needs to occur in real-time, using the context around customer behavior to anticipate their next need. Engagement also needs to be seamless across every channel.

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6. Growing Importance of Images and Voice

Beginning in 2019 we will be contending with a post-literate society, according to Warc. That refers to an era where images and characters will replace words as the communication of choice for the majority of consumers. Combined with the growing rise of the voice technology market (projected to hit $128 billion by 2024) and the mainstream adoption of conversational commerce, visuals and voice are in a position to replace text.

“People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day,” says Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO. “What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.”

People speak with emojis. They read in memes. They text in symbols. As we enter the post-literate era, our messages may be shorter, but they’re just as powerful … and faster to create. Much of this communication will be in the form of “likes” that will influence purchases through mico-influence.

It is estimated that in the near future the majority of search will happen in kitchens, living rooms, cars and while walking … without ever typing a word. Voice-powered applications are expected to be one of the areas most impacted by the rise of artificial intelligence, according to a survey by Euromonitor. While voice-enabled devices like Alexa and Google Home continue to populate more homes, their ability to generate sales remains somewhat negligible. This is expected to change in 2019 as more voice devices are purchased and more applications are developed.

We are at the point of a big transformation,” Patrick Gauthier, Vice President at Amazon Pay, said during his keynote at Money 20/20 USA. “With voice we are going to see different complementary experiences emerge.” Gauthier said he expects voice to play a bigger role when it comes to providing product information or executing recurring transactions.

7. Desire for Life Balance and Experiences

In 2019, the level of digital noise and global anxiety will move many consumers to dedicate more time to personal experiences and “downtime.” The increasing concept of “calm design” – technology that blends seamlessly into our daily lives without us having to focus on a device or feature while using it – is just the beginning. The speaker components of Amazon Echo or Google Home are examples of calm design, as are many of the apps that support meditation, relaxation, improved sleep, etc.

The challenge is that most consumers are technologically dependent. Trying to move from being “always on” consumers realize that their emails, social messages, texts, etc. are piling up, creating more stress after the digital detox.

As part of the search for life balance, we are seeing the emergence of an increasingly adventurous consumers, looking for new discoveries and experiences. The connected world has led consumers to want to experience other cultures, foods, travel, etc. In fact, research shows that younger generations are more interested in spending their money on intangible experiences such as travel and dining out, relative to Generation X and older segments who are more interested in tangible goods and homes.

With this ever-growing experience economy, there is rise of “hyphenated creatives” (a banker by day/yoga teacher on the weekend) and the growth of teleworkers and small online businesses. Because change is occurring at an increasing pace, consumers are increasingly looking to embrace the inevitable change, take risks and disrupt themselves.

8. Need for Privacy and Security

Data breaches and ethical failures can deprecate brands in an instant. As a result, there will be an increasing emphasis in 2019 on the need to have a better understanding of AI and the impacts of data security. Consumers will be more inquisitive in 2019 about the steps being taken to protect data and privacy by the firms they interact with.

Every company has become a technology company, with the responsibility to protect all digital assets of their customers. These firms will also need to address the ethical use of data and AI technologies. In 2019, we will see companies begin to publish their position on the use of data and AI technologies to their employees, customers, partners and shareholders. This positioning could become a differentiator for some firms.

9. Increase in Social Activism

In the past, the majority of social activism was focused on the boycott against certain brands. “Consumer activism is taking on a new spin, with buyers more apt to spend money with brands whose values they support than boycotting the companies they oppose,” according to a Weber Shandwick study.

In fact, 83% of respondents to a survey believed it is more important to support companies that “do the right thing” by doing business with them — a practice known as “buycotting.” Interestingly, buycotters are more likely to buy from purpose-driven brands than boycotters are likely to resist buying from boycotted brands.

Brand activism will be an important trend in 2019, providing a great opportunity for companies to embrace the idea of social good. Purpose-driven marketing can result in a greater connection between a brand and consumers, assuming that the message is sincere and relatable. This also can result in increased trust if done with authenticity.

Importance of Understanding Digital Consumer Trends

With new advances in technology and the use of data and analytics to improve targeting, it’s increasingly important for marketers and customer-facing personnel to understand how consumers are changing their beliefs and behaviors. The evolution of digital consumer behavior is never static. In fact, change is happening faster than ever before. This means that brands, marketers and advertisers must understand these changes and must increasingly understand the changing device-related habits on an individual basis.

It is important to realize that trends do not refer to a specific brand or style, but rather the underlying values that drive consumers buying behavior. These values evolve over time, and along with them, consumption patterns. A brand that aligns with current consumer trend stands a much better chance of success. Unfortunately, the lead time to respond to a changing trend is shorter than ever, Therefore, it’s not only important to know where a consumer belief is today, but what the belief may be tomorrow.

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