20 March 2015

Connected devices have made unified experiences the new norm

The way people are using digital devices is changing.

Customers expect their experiences with brands to embrace devices and channels in the same way they do - universally. Understanding the drivers of customer digital behaviours is the only way to deliver effective and engaging digital services that meet their changing needs.

We are constantly surrounded by connected digital devices. Be it the smartphone in your pocket or the computer you use at work, we’re never too far from a screen where we can catch up on news, find useful information, or entertain ourselves with a quick puzzle game. 

Because of this, we’re more connected than ever before. With the convenience and availability of media experiences on digital devices, digital is establishing itself as the primary venue for performing all kinds of tasks and consuming all kinds of content.

Only digital media sees growth in daily consumption

In 2013, for the first time, digital media consumption outpaced traditional media, including TV, radio and print combined, accounting for 57% of global daily media consumption of any kind. With this shift, has come all of the benefits that digital holds over traditional media: Your newspaper doesn’t know who you are and what’s relevant to you, but Flipboard collects all the latest news in your favourite categories. Your dumb TV, no matter how much time you spend with it, can’t understand when your favourite show is on, but your smart TV will automatically record it and remind you. Your FM radio doesn’t know the name of the song that’s playing, but Spotify can generate a personalised playlist based on it. Your checkbook can’t check your maths, but your budgeting app can track your spending and alert you when you go over the limit.

Driven by mobile

Beyond the benefits of smarter services, the driving force behind digital’s growth is the overwhelming demand for services on mobile. So great is this demand that it has propelled mobile into the largest single digital device category, holding 60% of the total time spent consuming digital media as of June 2014.

Share of U.S digital media time spent by platform

It’s safe to say that this increase in mobile use is rooted in the rapidly increasing capabilities, convenience, personal relevance and the common feeling that mobile devices are just as capable and useful as other kinds of computers. They’re being used, not only as on-the-go stop-gaps between PC access as many used to assume, but all of the time - even when we’re sat right next to other screens like laptops and TVs.

The everywhere-ness of this kind of digital media experience means that it can take place in varied environments, during different activities and on an array of devices.

Whether it’s picking up on your living room TV where you left off on your smartphone during a commute, finishing that email you started writing at your desk after you leave the office, or buying a new pair of shoes on your tablet after researching them on a laptop, more and more digital activities are fractured across devices.

According to Ofcom, 50% of households in the UK have at least 4 connected devices (including computers, phones, tablets and connected TVs or game consoles). These various devices are preferred in different environments and at different times of day. But, while some activities have clear biases towards certain devices (for example, people generally prefer to check recipes on tablets rather than smartphones), the increasing trend is the expectation to be able to access the same content, use the same tools and complete the same tasks, regardless of the device that’s being used.

Services like Kindle and Netflix offer seamless transition from one device to another mid-stream by unpacking services, de-siloing teams and technology platforms, and pre-empting returning users with simple options that bring them the content they were previously consuming - rather than making them look for it.

Meeting the challenge

Businesses that hope to stand up to this shift in consumer expectations need to adapt to survive. Too many organisations are hindered by lack of communication between internal business units, having drawn lines between traditionally separate activities like marketing and customer service.

Customers who experience your brand don’t care how your company is structured, they see your business as a single entity - so when one customer touchpoint fails to match the expected experience of another, it will be perceived as a failure of the brand as a whole.

Buzzwords like omni-channel and transmedia can be useful for capturing fall short of capturing the true extent of these expectations of unified experiences because customers don't care which device they're using, they only care if your service works or not.

What’s driving unified experiences?

  • /People are consuming content in more contexts and on more devices than ever before. Digital services are appearing across locations, activities, settings and on different devices and platforms - mobile devices, Facebook, tablets, TVs, Google search results, each device or digital platform comes with their own demands and opportunities.
  • /Global Internet user numbers suggest that 91% use a computer, 80% use a phone and 47% use a tablet [GlobalWebIndex Q3 2014]. In the US, 70% of Internet users regularly use both mobile devices and PCs for consuming content [Milennial Media Cross-Screen Consumer Behavior: Decoded, 2014]. While in the UK, 50% of households have at least 4 connected devices (including computers, phones, tablets and connected TVs or game consoles) [Ofcom, The Communications Market, 2014]. These figures suggest that the devices customers are using to access digital content and services are diversifying at an increasing rate. With customers using increasingly diverse digital devices, services must be designed to leverage the unique demands and opportunities of those devices.
  • /Customers experience a brand as a single integrated offer. Any gaps in one of the touchpoints of a brand will be perceived as a reflection of the brand as a whole.
  • /Digital consumers follow the path of least resistance, switching to whichever media source offers the most relevant content with the least effort, in whichever situation they find themselves. If there is a weak link in the experiences across everyday devices, users will look for more satisfying experiences from competitors.
  • /Cloud technologies have enabled syncing of experiences across devices - e.g. pick up where you left off on any device on Netflix.
  • /Cross platform behaviours according to comScore Multi-Platform and Mobile Metrix, U.S.; January 2014:
    • /Smartphones are more often used to answer user needs immediate to their context, such as checking weather or gettings directions, taking photos, researching purchases in-store. Messaging, checking email and connecting on social media are also important.
      Tablets seem to be playing more of a role in media-rich activities such as researching and purchasing goods, playing games, planning meals, and watching video.
    • /PCs and laptops appear to be better suited for business and finance work, as well as complex tasks like booking travel. This is most likely due to the ease of typing, word processing and multitasking on PCs with their dedicated peripheral input devices and larger screens. Those larger screens also makes PCs and laptops the most popular devices to watch video and TV.
    • /While these figures show increased likelihood of certain behaviours across devices, the key takeaway is that they are being used for everything. Users don’t differentiate between their devices as sources of information or entertainment. As illustrated by the use of devices by millennials, a generation that has grown up with these devices, even the small screens on smartphones are popular for watching movies.

Millennials move TV content beyond the TV set

Creating unified experiences

  • Mobile is a must. Any digital experiences need to be available and coherent across platforms - mobile’s dominance and variable contexts means it deserves a lot of attention.
  • Create customer-centric structures. Organising content and discovery around how users think about the subject matter and the context of use (how they access info, when, where, how often etc.). People use their devices differently in different contexts. Don’t fight these behaviours, embrace them.
  • Atomise content. Modular content that can be reconfigured to suit different contexts, across platforms (from web pages to news apps, on social media or in smartphone notifications) and consumption styles (quick hits, lean-in rich media experiences, conversational user-generated).
  • Diversify content. Different kinds of content to leverage the opportunities or limitations of different contexts (it would be difficult to read an whole magazine feature on a 10 minute bus journey, but you could easily watch a short video).
  • Richer experiences. Richer media experiences that make the most of device technologies, and embrace how users consume content differently on devices.
    • Device Technologies - Better connectivity and bandwidth, better performance and graphics processing power (improves both video and animations), better screens, off-loading complex processes into the cloud (allowing the device to focus on experience).
    • Behaviours - Video is becoming more popular across all devices (Online video now accounts for 50 percent of all mobile traffic and up to 69 percent of traffic on certain networks. From Bytemobile Mobile Analytics Report). The most successful online content is highly visual (using images, graphics and video), bite-sized content that’s easy to dip in-and-out of and share, and conforms to familiar structures so users know which parts are relevant to them (e.g. listicles).
  • De-silo teams and technology. If your platforms are going to talk to each other, your teams and technology need to as well.