Moving Digital Expectations into a Bricks-and-Mortar World (Part 1)

In previous posts, we discussed the arrival of the Experience Economy in 1998, the year Bellagio opened here in Las Vegas (remember those fountains that are everywhere on social media?) and the fact that it is here to stay.  We also discussed esports as a phenomenon and some of the details of a study YWS commissioned from GfK Research (www.gfk.com) on the topic.

In this post, I’d like to step back to 1912 when my great-grandmother sent a postcard to my grandmother indicating that she’d be arriving at the North Avenue train depot and that my grandmother should come pick her up.

Fast forward a hundred six years and she would have used a smart phone to call or text grandma the message — perhaps with a train emoji tacked on for good measure, and proceed to an Uber  car for a ride to grandma’s house.

Undeniably, times keep changing, and how we spend time and experience life is changing too. According to the 2017 Digital Future Report published by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg, the average American spends 23.6 hours online each week … a number that has steadily increased in recent years. That means more than 20 percent of an American’s life is now spent consumed in the digital world (perhaps on a train platform waiting for a commuter train home).  We previously touched on this trend when examining esports arenas.

While specific statistics related to digital usage differ among Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers (aka Millennials) and Gen-Zers, there is one consistent thing: Today’s customers are more nuanced — their information intake is faster, more personalized and interactive.  And therefore, in lieu of traditional age-related demographic data, this evolving trend requires consideration of your customer’s psychographic data in determining how to best identify, reach and satisfy them.

But, we need to step back again and recall that traditional information distribution was a one-way street, pushing structured messages from providers (such as retailers or manufacturers) to customers through regularly scheduled and published channels (television, newspapers, and magazines for example). Unlike the orderly, one-way street, information distribution systems today live in the aptly named information superhighway — cluttered with a few chaotic roundabouts built in. It is now an ad-hoc, user-initiated system created, controlled, and consulted by the very end consumers when and where they want it.

Yes, people still watch television (or streaming services) and read the newspaper (online or printed), but, more often, they are participating in content curation and consumption in an online world that puts them in the driver’s seat.

In addition to taking a more active role in message reception, today’s consumers latch on to technology’s ability to deliver small shots of pleasure. Scientists are still debating whether technology is actually addicting and how much dopamine plays into our digital decisions, but there’s no question people eagerly participate in this two-way communication system that makes them “feel” rewarded and worthwhile with instant feedback and reactions.

We live in a 24/7/365 connected world. Being connected to electronic devices means feedback and reactions from billions of other connected people are instantaneous. Why wait for a letter to the editor to be printed when you can get a Facebook “like” within moments of uploading a photo? Andy Warhol said people want their 15 minutes of fame. This still holds true, but in our opinion, they now want it delivered 15 self-gratifying seconds at a time.

So here’s the take-away:  1) It is no longer possible to lump large, unified groups of people together based on demographic information, 2) nor is it possible to reach these groups through traditional uni-directional distribution channels using mass-produced messages and methods, 3) this option-rich, information-saturated, high-touch, there’s an app for that, instant-response digital world requires that Brick-and-Mortar environments interact with our customers and the environments we create for them.

And that’s a topic we’ll explore more in-depth next.