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Decision making in a connected world

On 3 February the ECCT's Marketing Club held a lunch event on the topic: "Decision making in an increasingly connected world" with guest speaker Mike Jewell, Senior Research Director at TNS Taiwan. Jewell spoke about media fragmentation and how technology is transforming the lives of consumers in Taiwan and across the planet based on work TNS has completed among internet users in 50 markets around the world.

Taiwan is one of the world's most connected societies. 74% of consumers access the internet on a weekly basis compared to the most connected society (Norway), where the percentage is 92%. In Taiwan, there are 4.7 devices per person, placing Taiwan among the top five countries globally, while smart phone penetration has reached 84% of the population. Taiwanese people spend an average of six hours per day using various devices, 3.7 hours of which are online. Three quarters of Taiwanese consumers have shopped online. People still spend more time using PCs than mobile phones and PCs are still the most common device used for online purchases. That said, the amount of time spent on mobile phones is rising and the percentage of mobile usage is higher among young people.

Taiwan can be considered a global leader market (where technology is adopted faster than the average on the planet). Taiwanese also are more active than average in terms of social engagement online and using online channels to post opinions. In terms of developing a connection strategy, the level of connectedness in Taiwan clearly indicates the need for brands to pay attention to and continue to focus on the digital channel. This requires a better understanding of consumer trends and their behavior online. As to what to focus on, whether social and earned media or owned and paid, the answer is less clear cut. After studying and classifying consumer behavior, TNS has identified four distinct segments based on social engagement and digital influence. Knowing these segments can help to tailor messages to their needs and wants. The four segments are:
1.    Functionals: People who belong in this group, tend to have either little access to or little interest in digital technology. They have virtually no social engagement online. While they should not be ignored as part of an online strategy, they tend to be more influenced by traditional media channels.
2.    Connectors: This group tends to be largely consumers of and engaged in social media but without being proactive influencers. They also consume traditional media.
3.    Observers: This group uses the internet a lot as a source of information, but they show little interest in engaging with or being influenced by social media. They tend to use digital media but from official sources and not user content.
4.    Leaders: This group is the most important for brands. They are quick to adopt new technologies and see digital as an end in itself. They are both heavily influenced by and heavily influential in digital and social channels. They are at home in digital space, always connected and willing to express their opinions (such as through blogs). According to Jewell, Taiwan has three times as many influencers than the average in other markets. While influencers tend to be younger than the other three types, there are influencers from all age-groups.

Brands need to understand the characteristics of each type and then develop a strategy to target each type. By far the most important group to pay attention to is the influencers since their actions have the power to change the behaviour of others. Getting the strategy right for leaders/influencers is not as easy as it seems. For instance, paying bloggers to write favourable things about one's brand or product is a double-edged sword. While the brand or product gets good reviews, if the relationship between the brand and the blogger is exposed, the credibility of both the blogger and the brand could be seriously damaged. A better strategy would be for the brand to actively engage with and find ways to make sure the influencers' experience of the brand's products or services is positive.

An interesting aside is that while there is more use of online media, Taiwanese still want and use traditional media. However, the use of various types of media fluctuates throughout the day. For example, newspapers, radio and TV remain key channels in the morning while usage of mobile, tablet and PC/laptops grows in importance during the day. Consumer attention reverts back to TV in the evening (TV viewing levels are the highest at around dinner time) then shifts back to PCs/laptops in the late evening and mobile just before bed.
Jewell cautioned that high TV viewer ratings, while positive, are no grounds for complacency. The growing tendency for people to ‘screen stack' (use more than one screen simultaneously) means that people are seldom paying complete attention to any one programme. Advertisers should be aware of this. This information is important information for brands in the timing and nature of marketing and adverting campaigns. Brands can use particular platforms to target consumers at particular times of the day.

Great content marketing is timely, relevant and shareable. Not all consumers are equal, and prioritising those that are most active and most open to brand contact will increase the chances of success. Taiwanese consumers connect with brands online much more than in other markets (and for a variety of reasons) but this varies by category. For example, brands of food and drink are primarily getting consumer engagement due to money savings and coupon offers. Engagement with technology brands can be functional (eg saving time, making life easier, accessing product information), but also for emotional reasons like having fun, while financial services are much more about convenience and the type of product.

Getting people to actually buy things depends on a number of factors and digital is not always the most influential ‘touchpoint' in the path to purchase. The overall influence of digital is determined by: The level of digital development with the market, the segmentation profile of the shopper, the shopper mission within each category and whether the shopper is open or decided on what brand to buy. But the more digitally engaged consumers offer the greatest potential. Therefore, addressing their needs should be the priority. The main drivers are price or value, good deals and convenience (efficient process) while the main barriers to success are uncertainty about quality, authenticity (genuine vs fake brands), and higher prices.

The current appeal  for e-commerce in Taiwan is the greatest in music, travel, baby accessories, clothes and shoes and consumer electronics products, although a rising number of people are now buying groceries (food, personal and household care products) online (something that is rare in Norway (even though Norway is the most connected society). There are different drivers and barriers for different categories. For example, buying groceries or tech goods online is mainly about convenience and price. However, for financial services, trust and security are major issues while there is also a focus on providing an efficient and simple online process.

Jewell concluded that mobile is a driver of these trends as it has the ability to bring online and offline together. While a higher than the global average number of consumers in Taiwan use a mobile device to research products or services while in a store, a lower than average number of them use a mobile wallet to purchase them, indicating that the level of confidence and trust in this service is lacking. This is a good example of how vital it is for firms to establish trust in their services and their platforms before they can expect to win business.