Digital and mobile technology is disrupting every business in every industry and channel. However, properly harnessed digital disruption can serve as a powerful connection between your brand’s core identity and your customers’ wants and needs.

Meet the Consumers

“Consumers are able to find and fulfill their needs faster and more efficiently than in the past,” said Cory Munchbach, analyst at Forrester Research, during a morning panel session entitled “Marketing to the Digital Consumer” at the Future M Conference in Boston. “The marketer’s job is to deliver content and offers that meet their needs.”

On the industry side, Munchbach said developments in digital technology have made the barriers to entering a marketplace lower than ever. “There’s no competitive advantage to owning a supply chain, merchandising or marketing channel,” she said. “Anyone with money and a good Twitter handle can disrupt an industry.”

Munchbach gave the example of an online-generated worldwide negative consumer reaction to corn syrup last year that disrupted the spirits industry, as corn syrup is a key ingredient in many mixers. In addition, she said celebrities with millions of social media fans and followers are changing industries.

“Diddy launched a successful vodka brand,” she said. “Jessica Simpson has her own very successful line of clothing.”

To succeed, Munchbach said marketers must think about what consumers need, what they’re doing online and then create online interactions that connect consumers with their business goals.

Get Back Where You Once Belonged

Stacey Howe, global director of digital brand marketing for New Balance, said the disruptive influence of digital and mobile technology gave her company a good opportunity to get back to its roots and what it stands for. “New Balance had the same challenge as a lot of companies which go through a tremendous period of growth but lose what once made you special,” she explained.

Howe said the athletic footwear company realized people don’t care about a product, but what that product lets them do. “New Balance helps you move,” she said. “We created a new motto, ‘Let’s make excellent happen.’ “
According to Howe, the use of “let’s” as the first word was a conscious decision in response to most athletic footwear/apparel marketing focusing on what “you” can do by yourself. “We place value in community,” she said. “When excellent happens, we celebrate.” New Balance makes online recognition of customer achievement such as running your first marathon a big part of its digital strategy.

Don’t Go Helter Skelter with Personalized Offers

John Caron, VP of marketing for Catalina, said that although his company is primarily known as a coupon provider, this is an inaccurate description in the digital age. “We’re a digital media company,” he stated. “That we deliver coupons through a printer is irrelevant. We understand shopper behavior, their wants and what’s most relevant.”

Caron said he does not like terms such as “multichannel,” but that the shopper experience can be summed up as “I wanna buy what I wanna buy.” In many instances, the mobile device is key to delivering what customers want when and where they want it.

“Some people say mobile is the third screen, I’d call it the first screen,” he said. “It’s what’s next to you when you sleep at night and the first thing you do in the morning is turn it on.”

However, Caron cautioned against crossing the line into “creepy” with individually targeted offers. “A man walked into a Target store very irate and yelled at the manager because his 15-year-old daughter was getting personalized offers for pregnancy-related items. He said she was not pregnant and Target was promoting her to have sex.”

The manager apologized profusely and gave the man a gift card. However, a couple of weeks later, the man returned to apologize. “It turned out he needed to have a conversation with his daughter,” said Caron. “Target knew she was pregnant before he did.”

However, Caron said this type of invasive personalized marketing becomes “creepy” and marketers need to realize just because they can do something doesn't mean they should. “Catalina can tell you what customers will probably buy a tie tomorrow in Boston between noon and 5 PM, but we shouldn't send them a personalized offer for a tie. It’s too Big Brother-ish. Now if someone buys a cake, plates and ice cream and you send them a reminder to buy candles, that’s cool, not creepy.”

Editor's Note: Related research: eMarketer Report Highlights Importance of Brand Advocates