The Rise of The Digital First Customer

If you are marketing your business today, I am sure you will agree it can be challenging. You need a touch of creativity, a splash of analytical thinking and a permanent eye on change.

Marketing is more complex now than ever before, requiring tweaks and adjustments based on emerging trends and consumer behaviours. In this article I am going to make the case for ‘working in beta’ and essentially ‘unlearning’ traditional marketing.

Oh and before we get started, I delivered a Fireside Chat On this topic. There is a video link below giving you a little insight from my Fireside Chat.

So let us just address the subject of change a little more… Globally we are witnessing huge evolutions in technology, the environment, socio-economics, climate, demographic change, economic uncertainty due to the pandemic and all of this influences consumer habits. It stands to reason that if people are buying differently, we have to be adaptive as marketers right?

You may have heard the term ‘Novel Economy’, It is all new, unusual, and there isn’t yet a playbook for a strategy moving forward. No meaningful best practices, data or case studies to guide us as we have not yet fully understood the new market conditions. While we’ve been in survival mode, the world and the economy has literally changed around us.

Even prior to the pandemic, customer experience was becoming a huge area for differentiation amongst the brands that really understood it.

Digital has exposed weaknesses and opportunities in every organisation, and helped us understand that experience is the foundation for every brand wishing to survive and even thrive in the novel economy.

But what has really changed in the last two years? How has digital and the stress of a pandemic impacted customer expectation and behaviour? How should we develop CX moving forward? How has all of this changed marketing?

There are several trends emerging right now, but digital-first consumer behaviour is right up there accelerating digital transformation and human behaviours.

Here are just some of the trends which we think influence the future of marketing.

Ignore the 4Ps, Embrace the 4Es

The traditional four P’s of marketing – product, price, placement, and promotion largely focused on what to sell and how & when to reach your market.  Companies followed a formula to price and place them in the market and let promotion bring home the bacon. It seems the four P’s are the past.  Let’s enter some E’s into the equation.  

Today the 4 E’s: engagement, experience, exclusivity and emotion have moved us from how and when, towards asking why someone would connect with our product or service.  

The most successful brands don’t offer just physical products or services, but great experiences, emotions, and a story that resonates. Take the brand I used to work for Disney, they sell happiness, Nike empowers you to courageously follow your dreams, to name but two.

The Rise of Generation Alpha

I am sure everyone is as sick to death as we are of the overuse of the terms Millennials or Gen Z. But there is validity in the discussion, especially if your target market is diverse as you could be making the mistake of speaking to everyone in your audience with the same tone of voice. 

Generation Alpha (Essentially born between 2010 and 2025) will be the most tech savvy, formally educated and independent generation to date. They are completely born into a world of tech which will result in high digital literacy, impatience due to shorter attention spans and increased expectation for gamification. Whilst they are not a leading consumer force yet, it is only a matter of time before they are earning, and therefore consuming. 

People Don’t Trust Brands Like They Used To.

We live in an age of massive mis-information. Different media channels contradict each other and extreme points of view are amplified and normalised. This inconsistency is confusing consumers, especially the young. As a result we are all a little more sceptical and suspicious of what we are told by both brands and media.

Research shows that most consumers simply wouldn’t care if their chosen brands disappeared for good. There are other choices and plenty of ways to sanity check their new choices from their peers or social proof.

So why are consumers so open to change? Well they simply expect brands to be mindful of their emotional needs and want them to contribute to their communities, believe in a cause, and support initiatives for positive change. 

At the end of the day, it’s still the product that matters most. A compelling brand story or demonstration of values may win the customers first purchase, but unless the experience meets the expectation, consumers choose a better option in a heartbeat. 

When it comes to Storytelling… People Crave Meaning

If you want to create resonance with your audience, you need to focus on the issues that are relevant to them at the moment. People crave meaningful relationships.

We’ve been fed a picture of the world that is artificial. The media shows us perfect images of celebrities which entertains, but really we crave a world that is close to our own. We want to see people that are honest and genuine in what they do and are relatable.

This is why teenage influencers who record videos and post them to YouTube/Instagram/Tik Tok etc. have wider audiences than any brand targeting the young. They speak the same language as the community, present an authentic perspective which their followers relate to. 

The Increasing Importance of Influencers

Most established brands are taking influencer marketing seriously now, but the concept is nothing new… it is just an evolution leveraging the tools of the times we live in. the concepts of brand ambassadors or celebrity endorsement have existed for decades. The difference is that today celebrity has changed and anyone can develop it with the right content strategy.

Podcasters, bloggers, vloggers and YouTubers are shaping consumer opinions as their preferred source for recommendations. The most successful focus on demonstrating values and being authentic, as a result they are perceived as genuine and trustworthy.

Influencer marketing isn’t just the sphere of consumer marketing either. There are several agencies representing influencers in the B2B space, acting as matchmakers for the brands that want to leverage their popularity.

Whilst not everyone wants to be an influencer, surely there is a simple lesson here for us all in supply and demand. When we take the time to raise our profiles and create values driven content our audience appreciates, we therefore increase our following… we then generate more opportunity. This really is the point, and one today’s business owner needs to take more seriously.

On the flip side, not everyone can afford to pay an influencer. That doesn’t mean we can’t create strategic partnerships or leverage the principle of ‘Credibility by Association’ which my co-founder Warren Cass talks about in his book.

It’s Time to get Intimate

Mass marketing models have worked very well in previous years. It was the easy process of identifying a target group, researching their characteristics  and defining a persona. Once done you developed a communication style and automated strategy to place people into funnels, and optimised to improve conversion. If you were first mover you typically got better results than those later to the party.

With the evolution of digital media we saw this model become a little more sophisticated, we started to gather more information about our target market, demographics, attitudes & behaviours, what content they consume, other buying habits etc. And platforms let us target based on this criteria. Again this was initially very successful for early adopters, but over time its effectiveness has been diluted by the mass market.

Now it is time to get personal. Technology and the pandemic have driven a wedge between the physical connectivity of humans. So it’s the brands that focus on humanizing aspects of the customer journey who will stand out and instantly differentiate.

Lastly, we need to get used to change and embrace working in BETA

A quote often attributed to Darwin (Although contested) perfectly describes the way we need to work right now. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.” When everything around us is moving at pace, it is our adaptability which will see us through, and this especially goes for marketing.

Algorithms change not just on search engines, but also on social platforms as they continue to find new ways to monetise. Proved tried and tested strategies around SEO and SEM simply don’t work in the same way as they used to.

Part of the working in beta mindset is also about being prepared to make mistakes and fail fast. It is also a commitment to constant development.

The future is BETA. Not just in decision making power, but also in behaviour. Beta attitudes and behaviours for work and buying decisions are even more pronounced among younger people, suggesting their impact will be long lasting. Think Digital First!


Warren Knight is an award-winning keynote speaker, top 100 Global Influencer and top 100 Tech Influencer, he’s internationally recognised as a speaker, trainer, and coach on Digital Leadership & Digital Transformation and author of Think #Digital First.