By Karl Escritt, CEO of Like Digital & Partners
The first time I heard the term ‘always-on’ digital consumer was somewhere around 15 years ago. This was at a time when the world began to embrace the use of multiple digital devices in our daily lives. Brands too realized the importance and activated their initial steps into navigating the complexities created by having to adapt to a new way of delivering content and online experiences.
Fast forward to the present day, the topic of the ‘always-on’ digital consumer has never been more important. But why? And what does this mean for brands and how they approach new technology in 2022?
If we look at the current average time spent online by individuals globally, we begin to see numbers that are surpassing 7 hours on any given day - meaning that the average person is spending more time online than eating, sleeping, working, or pretty much doing anything else.
If we were to break down these 7 hours, we would of course see a mix of different online activities, ranging from e-commerce browsing and purchasing to Netflix binge-watching and scrolling through reels. However, it’s fair to say that in 2022, we have truly become an ‘always-on’ digital population.
The extended online activity, however, presents both risk and opportunity for brands and businesses as they fight for consumer attention daily. This, alongside an accelerated rate of change across many aspects of the digital ecosystem, means that no one person, brand, or business can really keep up. There is of course nothing wrong with this; [it is] in fact rather exciting…
Rapid growth and change foster the opportunity for creativity and innovation within brands and businesses. It allows businesses to pivot and shift into areas that might be disruptive, innovative, or unknown. It pushes a new focus on experimentation and starts the cogs moving that could shift the innovation dial which, in turn, provides a competitive advantage for those whose experiments succeed.
So, what do brands need to do in order to start gaining this advantage? Firstly, experimenting with new technology doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need budgeting and a road map. These must include strategic marketing and an understanding of how these experiments might fit within the existing tech architecture.
Allocating budget and road mapping allows the project to become real and, more importantly, sets a marker that shows the business is investing in newness and is serious about exploring innovation.
Secondly, we must educate the business and stakeholders on the expected outcomes. These outcomes will widely differ from the traditional ROI-driven or data-driven decisions that make up the current world of success in the digital space. The outcomes from new tech experiments may be purely marketing lead, i.e., “Hey we tried this. Come and check it out.” They may result in a failed user journey on which the company will have gained valuable insight into what their consumers are not keen on, or the experiment may simply be a steppingstone to the next experiment. The output possibilities are endless.
An example can be seen in the recent public posts shared by Meta's (Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg has faced some strong (and mostly unfair) criticism towards the development experiments of Meta’s Horizon platform.
Rather than criticism, what needs to be acknowledged in these posts is that one of the world’s largest digital powerhouses also understands that it cannot keep up with the rate of change and demands of the ‘always-on’ consumer. Meta has understood that experimenting with new technology and [the ways in which] we might interact with it are a must to stay relevant, and right now Zuckerberg is allowing his team to just try things out.
It would of course be much simpler for Meta to just sit back and continue to take billions in ad revenue and not invest in the future tech, but that would be too easy. We need these mega-tech companies to help lead these kinds of experiments and to highlight and report on failures. Not because they may win the metaverse race (or whatever new tech we might be talking about in the next 12 to 18 months) but to set out guidance for all other businesses and brands and to help highlight what the future of interacting online might just become.
The ‘always-on’ digital revolution shows no signs of slowing down. It’s going to be very tricky to stay ahead of ‘what’s next.’ But businesses that encourage innovation and allow freedom to experiment will have a better chance of understanding the future direction of this constantly evolving digital world we are all living in.