In a recent Forrester Report titled “The Rise of the Empowered Customer,” analyst Anjali Lai used a phrase that has been sticking with me. She says that “today’s empowered customers no longer purchase products; they buy experiences.” (1) After pondering for a bit, I believe this to be very true and extremely impactful on the way companies need to engage and market.

Seeking experiences rather than products might be a reaction to mass commoditization of niche items that one use to be able to claim as unique. It might be the downside of increasingly efficient distribution that goes to every corner of the earth and is encroaching on near real time delivery or even onsite manufacturing with 3-D printing. In any event, consumers are seeking a way to stand out and not be like everyone else.

What does this mean to you as a marketer?

Borrowing again from Ms. Lai’s report, she identifies five forces that we need to consider and some things we can do right now:

  • Willingness to experiment. It wasn’t that long ago that even the most progressive consumers were leery about adopting new, unproven technology in fear of making the wrong choice of platforms, or worse, corrupting other connected devices or data. Now, consumers are often part of the stated development cycle for new products and want to be the very first to discover the newest, coolest trend. Depending on your development cycle, involving both your current and potential customers much earlier in the design and marketing phases will give you valuable feedback. You might also be able to create a grass roots movement and have advocates before your product ever hits the streets. There are many ways to engage with your audience here (in person, chat rooms, social media) but the one rule that must be followed is being authentic in your engagement.
  • Device usage. In October 2014, the number of gadgets on earth surpassed the number of people, and device production continues to grow five times faster than the global population.(2) Taking a look at my own household, including phones, tablets, televisions, appliances, thermostats, and even cars, we have more than 25 connected devices! It’s now critical that the user experience at a minimum be consistent, and ideally tasks are transferable between platforms. Improving on the multi-device experience is a journey, not a destination, so get started and stick with it.
  • Digital/physical integration. Devices are ingrained in consumers’ daily lives, and the gap between digital and physical experiences has narrowed. Empowered customers rarely think of digital experiences as separate from their physical ones — the two are becoming seamlessly integrated. We use our mobile devices as we shop to price check and read reviews on social media, to get added information at sporting events, and help us navigate roads, malls, and most recently Pokeman Go! Consider the context where a device might be used, and beware of designing it as if the environment is sterile.
  • Information savviness.  While scholars and pundits have claimed that there aren’t enough hours in the day to sustain the current pace of media consumption, our ability to scan, evaluate, and discern larger and larger amounts of data to find precisely what we are looking for continues to amaze. This in turn puts even more pressure on marketers to be immediately relevant, valuable, and entertaining or risk immediate rejection. As a marketer, present your information in a simple, transparent, searchable way, or risk being quickly passed over. From there, use the data that you have on the consumer to enhance and customize the experience. A cautionary note—use the data that consumers have provided as if you are a butler, not a stalker.
  • Self-efficacy. With the majority of consumers being always connected, life is lived on display, with an urge for attention and a desire to be perceived as unique. This tension between owning their identity and receiving meaningful acknowledgement drives consumers to seek out personalized, enriching, and emotionally satisfying experiences. Understand the different iterations and connotations that maybe associated with your brand and allow them each to blossom. Anyone that sets out to create a viral sensation with a product will invariably fail. But if the brand has the confidence to let consumers create a context for the brand to live within their world, there is a better chance that the right type of public attention will follow.

As a marketer, all of this can be overwhelming. There are plenty of stories of products and companies that have had meteoric success by effectively connecting with these forces. There are even more stories about those that got it wrong and put a few dents in their brand, or worse.

To get started, begin with analysis of the data you have available to you, apply the actionable insights, and measure everything! Watch for more on this topic soon.

(1) Anajali Lai, “The Rise Of The Empowered Customer, Consumers’ Evolving Behaviors And Attitudes Set The Pace For Innovation,” 2016 Forrester Research Inc.

(2) Zachary Davies Boren, “There are of officially more mobile devices than people in the world,” The Independent, October 7, 2014 ( devices-than-people-in-the-world-9780518.html).