We are all on the go

Aged 59 and 56 respectively, my dad and mom are by no means Internet savvy as compared to the young generations, yet, they are undeniably considered receptive to this new concept of online communications, which is itself such fascinating news to me.  It may sound a little odd at first but if looking in the context of a developing country, this definitely brings a whole new meaning to the Internet in Vietnam. Not until both of them owned smartphones and tablets, did I recognize their activeness on the Internet. Previously, my mom only knows how to call me via Skype and chat with me through Facebook Messenger, but now she brings her iPad with her everywhere to take photos, uploading them onto her wall and to keep in touch with me. On the other hand, my dad hardly contacted me through any types of online platforms except for calling me directly, now he is using Viber to call and message me (not to mention putting up his travelling photos on Facebook). Both are using their smartphones and iPads to read newspapers (and playing games!!!). My parents could be classified as “Baby Boomers” according to the consumer groups marketers were trying to label and categorize based on the years and environments they were brought up. Unsurprisingly, descriptions about those baby boomers are centered around pessimism and skepticism over media and institutions as a result of economic struggles, thus adoption of new technologies are quite often lagged behind1. To me, it was quite true but only until the technological booming of the 21st century, particularly with the introduction of Internet and smartphones. The convenience from smart devices have swept away all the initial cynicism, created more densely populated nodes of networked society with even old generation catching up with the Generation Alpha.

It has been predicted that 4.55 billion out of 7.1 billion world population will use mobile phone in 2014 with 1.75 million smartphone users, surpassing the 1 billion mark in 2012. By the end of the forecast period, smartphone penetration will reach somewhere near 50% of all the mobile phone users2. Together with the increased affordability of mobile broadband (3G/4G), these figures opened a new era of proactively targeting customers almost anytime and anywhere. The fact that mobile phones or other tablet devices have become increasingly inseparable to customers’ daily activities is perhaps the latest trend that any organizations can leverage on for their e-marketing mix.

The good news for many businesses is that mobiles and tablets have become favorite purchasing platforms for customers. Nielsen found out 87% of mobile owners use their devices to shop with both men and women equally active3. Thus, targeting customers on these preferred platforms is one of the strategic moves to fulfill marketing objectives, which often refer to specific increase in acquisitions/installations/sign-ups. M-commerce today accounts for a lion share in mobile markets and is expected to rise significantly.

Website adjustments and apps

The very first thing for mobile marketing is to make sure that the companies’ websites are compatible with smart gadgets. Technically, majority of websites should have mobile versions that can work well will all operating systems and clean interfaces that can support small screens. These mobile-friendly sites are necessary for businesses to facilitate access from users and clearly communicate their products or services. Users are on the go so catching their attention is way more difficult as compared to the already challenging desktop content. In addition, Internet speed is generally slower on mobile than on desktop so fast loading and neat interface are the most basic steps in building website for mobile marketing.

A survey in 2013 pointed out that 80% of mobile time was spent on apps4. Not just a mobile version but an app is a pivotal strategy that any companies should adopt in order to catch up with the changes in consumers’ behaviors. Now the doors to many businesses are shortened to just clicks away on users’ mobile screens. What’s more? Majority of users’ data, purchasing behaviors, unfinished purchases and so on can be captured and analyzed to create complete consumer profiles.

Mobile advertising

The skyrocketing growth in mobile content consumption has been an attractive signal for advertisers to spend more money on mobile advertising. Social networking and content sites are constantly adapted to boost its capacity of online space for ads with minimum interference into users’ experience.

BBC World News study showed that mobile ads are twice as effective as desktop among general population and four times more effective among affluent customers5. Likewise, in another research, consumers showed positive reactions with 80% downloading an app, 67% visiting the website, 52% visiting the store, 45% locating the advertiser on the map, 37% calling after seeing mobile ads. The results imply an increased acceptance towards mobile ads and an untapped opportunity for many advertisers6. In 2013, revenue from mobile ads went up by 105%, accounting for $18 billion in sales and it is predicted to continue growing, up 75% to $31.5 billion by the end of 2014. During the same period, marketers also increase more shares for mobile ads, expecting to make up one quarter of expanding total digital spend7.

With all the programming modified and sites restructured to accommodate more ad space, plus digital spend loosened, advertisers will undoubtedly enter the race for customers’ attention on mobiles and tablets, leaving many businesses with the question of “left behind.”

Mobile Messaging

“95 out of 100 of your customers who have opted into your text messaging program OPEN and READ your mobile messages within 3 mins,” shared James Citron, CEO of Mogreet, on Forbes8. Considering the intimacy associated with mobile phone, text messaging is one of the fastest way to promote new products to customers, ensuring high opening rates for many marketing campaigns. The ubiquity of smartphones promises a diversity of messages that go beyond 160 characters, incorporating rich-media texts or many different marketing activities into the strategies.

The tactics mentioned above  are definitely limited with regards to the unlimited possibilities of mobile marketing. Just like how feature phones have become an important aspect of daily interaction, smart gadgets will turn out to be the must-have items, embracing more types of online activities and communications for not only young people but also old generations. For any marketers, the focus should be always placed on constant changes of consumer behaviors on smart devices as well as continuous technological innovations going along with them.

1. http://www.socialmarketing.org/newsletter/features/generation2.htm
2. http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536
3. http://www.internetretailer.com/2014/02/20/consumer-internet-use-shifts-pcs-smartphones
4,6. http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/infographic-2013-mobile-growth-statistics/
5. http://www.thedrum.com/news/2014/02/20/mobile-advertising-more-twice-effective-desktop-bbc-world-news-study-shows
7. http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/19/global-mobile-ad-spend-jumped-105-in-2013-on-track-for-31-5b-in-2014-led-by-google/
8. http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2013/03/04/pulling-back-the-curtain-on-text-message-mobile-marketing/


Dare you not respond me quickly?

For any marketing practitioners, Internet opens an era of real-time tracking and reaching out to potential customers, which, in users’ dictionary, is the ability to approach their brands anywhere and anytime to solve their problems or simply to inquire about the services and products.  With the blossoms of platforms that organizations are using to maintain their online presence, the pools of prospects can be hit at high volume and frequency, and at the same time, it poses quite a number of new challenges for marketers.

My sister booked separate online flight tickets with AirAsia months ago for a trip with my mom. Since one of the flights was canceled, she needed to rearrange the schedule for her way back. What surprised her most was that she couldn’t change it online, she unavoidably must go through steps of contacting the airline to change the itineraries of both people, which was much more time-consuming and tedious than she had thought. To her biggest disappointment, the airline didn’t have a phone line to support her case so submitting an e-form is what she did initially, but it took at least 5 business working days to get a response. At the fifth day, she couldn’t wait so she used the second method called Live Chat. And in order to get through to the customer service representative (CSR), you would be placed in a virtual waiting room for about 30-45 minutes with around 100 people. After talking to the CSR, she received a call from the airline on the same date, they changed her flight, but unluckily they didn’t change my mother’s flight even though the case was always explained clearly every time it was explained to a CSR.  So after queuing two more times, filling a feedback form and not hearing anything from the airliner, now she decided to push it further, it was when she was writing a long and harsh comment on its Fanpage on Facebook, they sent my mom’s new itinerary in time before she hit the comment button.

Gone with the days when visiting the companies’ offices was the only way to get your problems solved. Now we are living in the digital age which implies a high demand of everything digital. My sister’s story reveals not only the increasing expectation of instantaneity and optimization of process when dealing with customers.

The most influenced by this changing customer behaviors are probably customer service and marketing. Different customers are accessing the companies in different ways and through different platforms, as such, customer service department must always address to the complexity by building access points throughout the purchasing process. Some are innovating their sales support line by incorporating new methods of serving customers such as online chat or automatic answering system. It seems that everything they are doing is right, yet, only one thing wrong here, they doesn’t take into account the capability to attend customers in the fastest way possible. Users are getting used to the fact that everything they want or desire will be at their finger tips with new technologies and any organizations doesn’t adjust their businesses to cater to these needs will be drowned in the sea of almost similar services. For the AirAsia case, they are building multiple platforms, but it doesn’t prove their well-preparedness to truly transform customers’ experience. So my thought is simply if we can’t do it, then go with the old-school way until we master the notion of speed among new generations of customers.

Similar the customer support, marketing departments must also be aware of the gratification gained from instantaneity. Developing multiple online profiles are one of the easiest ways to update customers immediately about any breaking news or daily offers but this convenience doesn’t come at no costs. Today customers are empowered with the ability to share and to feedback on companies’ products and services on various social platforms (the fact that I am sitting here and writing about my sister’s experience has been one of it!). The danger of SNSs is the possible epidemic arisen from any intentional or unintentional posts. People love to be updated and love to be shared so that’s how it works in this networked world and until now, you probably figure it out how negative the companies’ images may be viewed by their prospects. The damage may go far beyond what you imagine about things that could possibly happen in the first place.

Technology is undoubtedly everything impactful, but simultaneously a double-edged sword for any businesses who wish to enter this digital marathon for customers’ satisfaction resulting from instant gratification.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch

Recently, a friend told me that he’s so annoyed about the way Youtube works. He understands that as a free platform for users, it needs to generate revenue to sustain itself in the long run, but in some cases, these TVCs are shown not only before each video but now even during the video itself and it is obviously something really distracting for him. So what did he do? He simply logged out of his Youtube account and continued watching as normal. This way, he cannot benefit from the superior features of suggestions or history access, but he seemingly took the burden to watch a video continually rather than getting irritated. His story intrigues me in two aspects, how many of us are truly aware of the costs we need to pay to use these platforms, and even if we are aware of them, how can we react?

We come to use these online products such as emails, SNSs, search engines, video platforms, news, and so on naturally as our desire to be connected and updated in this world. Sometimes it is simply because we realize the useful and amazing features associated with these services that truly transform our ways of working and entertaining in a more effective and less time-consuming fashion. From a business perspective, there is always something that these companies will utilize to generate profits for its continued growth. The answer is clear for many of us, users’ information for advertising purpose. The bigger pools of active users they can build, the more attractive these platforms become for advertisers.

According to IAB, in 2013, the total revenues for Internet advertising reached an all-time high of 42.8 million dollars in the US alone, surpassing other traditional media such as broadcasting, cable TV, newspaper, magazine or radio1. It was also predicted 121 billion US dollars will be accumulated for total online ad spend worldwide this year, 2014, or almost one quarter of the total ad spend2. The promising outlook of online advertising is no doubts thanks to the increasing number of Internet users, which leads to the shift of enterprises’ strategies towards digital marketing. As expected, multiple changes are being made in the programming as well as the interface of sites in order to improve its ability to display ads without interfering users’ browsing experience, but more importantly, to mine users’ data at a more sophisticated level. Information is collected, analyzed, measured and leveraged on to help advertisers reach their prospects with high accuracy, promising to deliver targeted ROIs.

From a user perspective, accessibility and connectedness are enjoyed at the expense of selling their own personal data. They know and they should know before clicking on the “Accept” button to set up an online account, I just wonder how many of us really read that part of “Terms and Conditions” of how our data will be used. For self-conscious users, at this point of realization, they keep looking for “Opt-out” button but maybe to their disappointment, it is non-existent. So what probably can we do? For majority of us, including me, I guess we will continue to use these services. And just like how we accept that our data may be exploited by third parties, we internalize the ads appearing in front of our eyes as a matter of fact, an inseparable experience with our online activities. With more and more online space deployed for advertising, users train themselves to become more tolerant, similarly to how we are now expecting a TVC every 15 minutes of our favorite TV shows. The only difference here is traditional media do not know and basically cannot control viewers’ data, on the contrary, online advertising taps on the supreme capacity of programming algorithms to track customers on everything they do and everywhere they go on the Internet. The convenience of the Internet has outweighed its downsides in ways that users today take it for granted and endure the inconvenience without any questions asked.

My friend’s reaction is maybe just an extreme example of users’ disapproval, I guess for many of us, “ads and too much ads” is still not the serious case right now. But for me, it doesn’t mean these acceptance and tolerance should be abused by tech companies as at the end of the day, providing seamless and positive experience to users is the long-term way to go. On our side, as Internet users, we should get ourself educated and be aware of this phenomenon, for every of our online actions, it will be recorded to serve advertisers’ operations. For now, the question isn’t revolving around whether we know or we do not know, but how receptive we are to personal data usage and to which extent those organizations can make advantage of our info for business purposes.




Online Identity – I am who I am

One of the superior factor of Internet is its ability to link things and people through an immensely large number of devices subscribed to the world wide web. In order for these nodes to be connected, online identity is mandatory. At the most effortless level, it is someone’s profile which contains most of the background info from age, gender, education to family, occupation. However, online identity not only refers the demographic information but also embraces the meaning of self, who you are as a person. The dynamics of any online conversations are lying within the understanding created among the speakers that go beyond the limited features of non-face-to-face interactions. Virtual identity helps users to convey their self in a clearer and more controllable manner. For many, the question is whether real identity is represented consistently in both online and offline  worlds. It seems that the answer is no, thus, the arguments over online identity have been under heated debates without any signs of discontinuation.

The preferred self

Like most of the friends at my age, my roommate and I sometimes have some kinds of selfies, in which we always discuss how to choose the angles, the lighting and even the apps (Instagram or Camera360 to name a few) that we are going to use. So basically, we try to make sure that it’s gonna be a nice and beautiful photo for both of us (if you ask, I am not feeling embarrassed about it!). Similarly, I have seen quite a number of friends put a lot of efforts in taking selfies, deleted and retook if it was found disqualified until they satisfied with the final products. The ultimate purpose of this phenomenon is the showcase of one best self in every picture, which I guess may not be fulfilled in FtF interactions.

With the advent of technologies, users have the tendency to creating and maintaining an ideal or at least preferred self that would be hardly found in real life. Online activities like facebook-ing, tweet-ing, blogging, joining online forums or anything that you do online requiring a certain level of self-expression are integrated elements of identity building. Additionally, people can understand more about a person through these types of online non-verbal interactions. For me, unlike the offline world in which the non-verbal part is the body language, online non-verbal cues are coming from how you interact with people and what kinds of activities you are often do. To put it simply, liking a photo on Facebook is not merely a reactive action but a sign of approval that doesn’t require explicit explanation.

I am who I am

For many, Internet is the tool for creating a different identity cultivated from the desire to look good in the constant pursuit of social approval. For others, Internet is simply a the platform for them to be themselves. A friend of mine who has an Instagram account only allows certain people to have access to it despite her popularity that can be seen from her Facebook number of friends. There is a guy that I know having 2 Facebook accounts, one is for his parents, the other one is for his friends to reveal his homosexuality. Two of the cases that I have come across proved my beliefs in the impacts of SNSs on encouraging people to show who they are. Both are sharing their deepest thoughts, personal opinions, life events or true sexuality.

Internet becomes the therapy whereby the true or genuine self can be showcased clearly with the emphasis on aspects that they cannot easily thrash out in offline world. In this sense, people are not trying to build a favorable image but making an effort to be at least once who they really are without fear. They are simply seeking for a place where they can freely tell their deepest thoughts, weird opinions, personal problems or even their secrets with the hope that their voice will be heard. Needless to say, Internet empowers people to find solutions for all their needs.

Social judgements are on the way

For both cases mentioned, whether it is made subconsciously or is a representation of real self, there are always social approval and judgments involved.

Since users know someone is watching over them, sharing some news or personal updates, uploading a photo, or more subtle activities such as liking and commenting on a post or photo will lead to a better representation or impression of themselves as friendly, constructive, easy-to-approach, caring, considerate (and the list goes on) people. With the advance in privacy settings, the friends mentioned above could choose to share their stories only to a particular group of people. For both cases, people are seeking for social approval of their self, so in one way or another, social judgments have made its way into online sphere without any obstacles. In other words, online users have been internalizing a number of factors inherent in offline interactions. And whatever they are, there are still a lot of changes going on until people completely adjust themselves to the virtual world of communications.

Going social – the nature of online relationships

So why does social networking sites (SNSs) become so such a technological breakthrough with unprecedented popularity around the word these days?The question has struck me deeply since my first day in NUS and like any of my CNM fellows, I found a great deal of answers for this phenomenon which are listed in many academic papers, news or even casual blog posts. From my very own point of view, the interesting part of all lies within its ability to blur the lines between online and offline world at the most unconscious level, thus, coming with this trend is the dynamics of constantly changing relationships. This post is merely subjective observation revolving around my friends’ interactions as well as my own ones.

The ironies of being intimately online and distantly offline

Many of SNS users may not have realized it but for me it has become somehow undeniable that we are maybe not considered “friends” in real life but definitely we are “friends” on Facebook. Years ago, I was pretty curious about how close my girlfriend to this particular guy. As a silent observer, I often saw two of them commenting and liking each other post on Facebook in ways that can be seen as “close.” The fact that she was quite close to me and I knew for sure that she didn’t have good impressions about him motivated to ask, her answer surprised me. Beside Facebook activities, they two had nothing to do with each other. Similar stories for many other friends who I knew well enough to ask. They all gave me more or less the same replies.

I wouldn’t say that all of online relationships hold this types of patterns, I myself have a number of friends that I truly believe in their genuine intention when interacting with me over SNSs. But I just started to realize the hard truth of relationships on Facebook as well as many other SNSs. At first, I thought it gave me false perceptions of closeness when it comes to online and offline relationships. In academic terms, it is said that these types of communications lack the “social cues” played as a compass for you to understand and predict the behaviors of the speakers, which I guess, may lead to inaccurate assessments into the depth of the relationships. I believe these explanation can still be applied to a large majority of online interactions whereby all the hidden emotions and judgement can be covered perfectly by normalizing, amplifying or downplaying the conversations as per the users’ preferences.

Yet, whether it is still the case?

The changing nature of relationships

When Facebook was first introduced, it exploited the term ” friend” as a representative node in your networks of connections, unlike Twitter which used “followers” and LinkedIn with “connections”. The word “friend” in the first place connote a deeper nature of any relationships, it doesn’t simply mean an acquaintance or some random people who are interested in particular topics. Thus, I would assume that Facebook aims to develop completely different experience for those whose purpose is to bring their offline friends online or even put aside the offline elements, “giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. Thus, online friendship isn’t necessarily being attached with physically social interactions, which inevitably shapes a whole new meaning for “friendship” in general.

People’s subconscious acceptance of absence from offline world is the core of newly-created definition for “friendship, followership, connections.”  Users can freely expand their networks to those beyond their immediate locations or those without any mutual interests. And with the advanced algorithms from brightest minds, users can easily track their level of connectedness, a social map that helps them to visualize who they are in the complicated, overlapping and interconnected networks of connections. Overtime, the needs for physical meet-ups with be replaced by perhaps desire for expansion and possibly popularity.

Back to my stories that I have mentioned in the beginning, now I believe it is me to hold so tightly onto my beliefs in deep and trusted connections without the essential realization needed to understand the underlying complexion of online interactions. With the new platforms, chances for networking are being widened exponentially without doubts but the more relevant question now is how. As the expectations are redirected into a different path, the question of why people connected has been somehow altered to how the connections are different and which opportunities it can bring about.