For all the buzz in the marketing world about the rise of connected consumers, virtually no research has been done to provide brands with definitive insights and practical approaches for reaching, engaging and retaining them.

This dearth of data-backed insight has left many brands disoriented and floundering. Either they've been forced to look to approaches that are so complex as to only complicate matters, or to approaches that are so simple as to be inadequate to the intricacies of today's purchasing journeys.

Pioneering a new approach

At Zen Media, it didn't make any sense to us that so little hard data existed on connected consumers to guide our own and our clients' strategy. It also didn't make sense to us there weren't more working alternatives to complex or simple marketing approaches. We felt like there had to be an approach that went beyond both while including the best of each, though at the time, we had only hunches about what that might mean.

Armed with a battery of questions, we took it upon ourselves to conduct an extensive research study into the global social phenomenon of the connected consumer. What we found was unexpected and intriguing. Not only did we discover multiple hidden gaps in the connected consumers' purchase journey that are critical for brands to identify and hack, but we also found the elusive answer to what lies beyond complexity and simplicity.

Beyond complexity and simplicity lies paradox

The connected consumer is characterized by multiple paradoxes. Understanding these paradoxes is the key to transcending the limitations of complex and simple approaches alike in order to make the game-changing move from What's Now to What's Next.

While the findings of our study are beyond the scope of what we can cover here, this 5-part series will provide an overview of key insights and accompanying research-based strategies. (For those interested in a deeper dive, the full report can be downloaded at

Laying the groundwork by rethinking "social"

Before we jump into an exploration of the paradoxical connected consumer and the hidden gaps of their purchase journey, we need to rethink our understanding of "social." In the marketing world, when we talk about social, we're usually talking about social media or social strategy. In other words, we're talking about social as a channel or as an approach to that channel.

But brands who want to be pioneers on the digital frontier need to expand their understanding of connected consumers' sociality to better align with the dictionary definition: "Tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships." This expanded definition means that "social" can no longer be reduced to social media, social strategy, or even digital connectivity. It also means an integrated approach across online and offline channels is non-negotiable.

Said differently, connected consumers' sociality must be understood as the larger context of digital and human relationality/interconnectivity in which all marketing approaches take place and by which they must be strategically guided.

Paradox 1: Connected consumers are gods, yet they are all too human

Connected consumers command god-like technological power and social influence but are also deeply human in their inability to completely overcome the vexing gaps they encounter along their purchase journey.

The contemporary purchase journey is no joyride

Just as the mythical gods of ancient Greek lore exhibited strengths that were intimately tied to their weaknesses, so it is with connected consumers. Though they are empowered by their digital and personal interconnectivity and the nearly boundless information and options it affords them, the complexities of this interconnectivity are often disorienting and overwhelming.

The greater majority of the 200+ connected consumers who participated in our study reported experiencing anxiety at multiple points along the purchase journey. This anxiety was related to very specific gaps in the purchase journey that brands had failed to identify and that our connected consumers tried desperately (and often unsuccessfully) to close.   

Hacking the gap: paving a smoother path

When the purchase journey is plagued by fits and starts, detours, dead ends, or confusing road signs, connected consumers consumers reach their purchase destination (if they reach it at all) with a bad taste in their mouth that carries over into their brand experience.

The takeaway for your brand

Brands need to understand that connected consumers experience the brand as the entire purchase journey and not simply as the destination. This means it's imperative for brands to take an integrated, holistic view of the multiple intersections of the purchase journey and make the process of "getting there" as satisfying as arriving. (Established companies like Zappos and start-up, Sleep Nectar, have built their fortunes on this principle.) Invest in user-experience optimization, stick with simple online interfaces, deploy real-time assistance via chat-bots or live agents, offer price-matching and free shipping and returns, as well as other anti-anxiety, confidence-promoting measures.  

In conclusion

A paradoxical understanding of today's connected consumers represents a game-changing, next-level move beyond complex or simple marketing approaches. In Part 2 of this series, we'll explore a second paradox that sheds further light on how businesses and brands can more successfully reach, engage, and retain connected consumers and powerfully differentiate themselves in the digital space.