Introduction

For too long, the marketing world has been unaware of the paradoxes of today's modern, empowered connected consumer. As a 2-sided phenomenon, paradoxes represent a powerful, next-level move beyond complex and simple marketing approaches alike for reaching, engaging, and retaining connected consumers. By identifying the hidden gaps found within each paradox, brands can take strategic action to hack these gaps and deliver a seamless purchase journey that brings connected consumers happily home to their purchase destination.   

Though this 5-part series offers only a brief overview of the research that first identified the paradoxical nature of the connected consumer, the full report can be downloaded at zenmedia.com. For an introduction to the concept of the connected consumer as well as a treatment of the first paradox, please see Part 1 of this series.

Paradox 2: Connected Consumers are independent, yet interconnected

A sense of fierce independence and individualism is central to connected consumers' self-conception, yet this independence and individualism is a paradoxical product of the social meshworks (digital and human, online and offline) in which they are inextricably anchored. To exercise their independence and express (and even define) their individuality, connected consumers are dependent on their interconnectivity with technology, other consumers, brands and physical products and services.

Search, search, and search some more

Connected consumers have taken searching for the perfect product to a whole new level. The proliferation of available products and the ability to search for them online, along with the growing demand from connected consumers for unprecedented levels of personalization and customization, results in a search effort nothing short of epic.

The connected consumers in our study typically sorted through between 50-100 products in their determination to find an item that checked every one of their boxes. This was no small feat since the parameters of personalization were a moving target. The more connected consumers searched, the more criterion tended to be added to their lists of what would constitute the perfect product. In other words, the search itself was paradoxical: the very process of attempting to narrow down options generated an expanding demand for personalized features.

It was here that connected consumers encountered a tedious, frustrating, and time-consuming gap in their purchase journey that almost all brands have failed to hack. Connected consumers were forced to devise ad hoc systems for coherently curating and comparing the dozens and dozens of products they were attempting to decide between. Some of them went so far as to create elaborate product spreadsheets. Many told of toggling between numerous browser windows or dragging images onto their desktop in attempt to view products side by side.

Hacking the gap: Customize and curate

Just because connected consumers have the perfect product in mind at the beginning of their purchase journey doesn't mean the first product they come to that matches their mental image is a done deal. In the age of the connected consumer, the perfect product is always in danger of being trumped by a more perfect product only a click away that offers higher levels of personalization or customization.

Connected consumers are so determined to match product features with personalized criteria that they go to incredible lengths to close the gap that lies between their attempt to independently drive their purchase journey and their dependence on brands to pave a smoother path to their final destination.  

The takeaway for your brand

The gap related to connected consumers' paradoxical independence and interconnectivity needs to be hacked on both the front and back ends. Just as pionnering companies like MatchCo cosmetics and Galia Lahav House of Couture are doing, brands need to close the front-end gap with increasingly personalized modes of engagement and greater product customization. On the back end, brands need to devise efficient, user-friendly systems such as those offered by leaders like Pottery Barn and video game company Entertainment Arts to help connected consumers curate and compare many products or genres at once.

Hacking this particular gap also means brands can't simply "push" to connected consumers but need to help them "pull" customized content on demand. This principle of balancing push-and-pull is overarchingly important because it solves for both sides of the paradox. It honors and affirms connected consumers' desire to be independent, but it also recognizes this independence needs to be deliberately supported and guided via interconnectivity with brands

In conclusion

Independence and individualism are central to connected consumers' self-conception yet this independence and individualism are a paradoxical product of the social meshworks in which they are inextricably anchored. Brands that understand the two sides of this paradox can better identify obstructions and repair breakdowns within these meshworks that diminish connected consumers' sense of independence and brand trust.

Making a next-level move means that brands must enhance connected consumers' ability to take control of their purchase journeys while not leaving them to the "heavy lifting" of attempting to close the gaps that brands have failed to hack. Brands that can provide clearer maps and more accessible "GPS systems" for navigating the road ahead will make it that much more likely that they will become not only trusted travel companions but also preferred purchase destinations.  

Published on: Jan 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.