With the average consumer owning 3 connected devices and smartphone uptake hitting 1 billion in 5 years, it is hardly surprising that digital is fast becoming the medium of choice for marketers – so much so that digital spend accounts for 25.9% of the $540 billion global advertising budget.

However, with such extensive reach and potential for cost efficient programmatic forms of marketing, how often do we stop and consider the darker side of digital and what it means for brands?

Simply put, not enough.

Bearing this in mind, we looked to uncover the unread messages of the human relationship with technology via a 3 week qualitative immersion with over 100 UK consumers that unearthed a series of insights marketers should consider when making digital decisions:

The Curated Self = The Confused Insight

Digital Dynamic: Consumers confess to using digital communication to build their ideal persona. These crafted identities often see consumers making themselves appear to be smarter, funnier and more cutting edge than they really are.

Marketing Meaning: The data rich digital world we now operate in means that often our marketing activity is fuelled by digital insight. However, we clearly need to approach this with caution, reinforce with other research methods and combine insight streams to truly understand consumers – evidently digitally projected consumer identities and behaviours may not accurate vs. offline reality and we cannot let them dictate investment without having them verified.

Needy Devices = Declining Brand Affinity Risks

Digital Dynamic: Consistent push notifications and pop-ups mean that consumer’s devices are consistently screaming at their owners for engagement and activity. Resultantly, digital devices disrupt the pattern of every day behaviours and to some extent this causes friction in the consumer-device relationship.

Marketing Meaning: Marketers need to better consider the quantity of activity they target at individual consumers. If consumers receive excessive attempts to communicate with them by a particular brand, it will become synonymous with the surging digital friction and affinity of brands driving this will likely decline accordingly.

Digital Efficiency = Engagement Danger

Digital Dynamic: Digital devices are largely responsible for the growth of the ‘real time society’. They help alleviate time pressures, allow for multitasking and allow consumers to expedite once manual tasks. However, it has also brought with it a deluge of ways consumers can spend their time, often meaning digital engagement has added a time burden to consumer’s already time-poor lives.

Marketing Meaning: Time burdened consumers are simply less engaged consumers. Core marketing assets such as communications, content and data morph into a singular, vast, grouping of white noise which consumers are engulfed in. Resultantly, whilst we can contact consumers more easily than ever, to engage with them has never been harder as they become time poorer – partly due to the devices that made them contactable in the first place.

Entertainment Filler = Timing Necessity

Digital Dynamic: Digital devices have filled a great need for helping to occupy what was once small entertainment-less pockets of time in consumer’s lives. Now smart phones are the go-to-activity for consumers looking for quick bursts of entertainment or information.

Marketing Meaning: When we are looking to engage with consumers on devices, particularly smart phones, attention grabbing and to the point content and information is the number one priority. Time poor consumers looking to engage digitally in quick bursts means that we need to get our message across in the most efficient way possible.

Old Skool Consumer = Channel & Calendar Conundrums

Digital Dynamic: Fears of digital addiction mean that some consumers are now reverting back to phones without internet connections, removing social media accounts and lusting for holidays away from their devices.

Marketing Meaning: This is a trend that needs to be both measured and monitored to ensure appropriate investments are made. If your consumer base is a segment that mirrors those who are departing social media, investment in this channel needs to be revaluated. Seasonality also becomes a key driver of mobile campaigns – why invest in the months when consumers are on holiday enjoying mobile silence?

Jack Miles

Jack Miles


Jack Miles, Research Director, Northstar Research Partners.