Businesses the world over are struggling to keep pace with the rapid increase in consumer internet usage on-the-go, according to Philip Groves of Emarsys, author of a whitepaper by on the psychology of e-marketing via smartphones, which examines why people seem so addicted to smartphones and why they behave the way they do. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

In 1970 Alvin Toffler coined the term 'Futureshock' to sum up the potential damage to people of too much change in too short a period of time; the consequence of an exponential rate of development in a 'super-industrialised' society. Looking around, it's hard to see where Toffler's overwhelmed people are. On the contrary, the damage is being felt by businesses who are struggling to keep pace with consumers' rapidly shifting patterns of consumption.

One of these new patterns, and the focus of the white paper, is how the internet is increasingly being accessed on the move. Once you could be confident that your eMarketing (a used here to encompass marketing through both email and social media) was landing on the desk of someone sitting in front of a computer, who would process it in a somewhat linear and focused fashion. Now those messages are arriving in the hands of people in a multitude of different locations, and who are usually engaged in other activities at the same time.

This practice has become so commonplace that we take it for granted, but the fact is that mobile marketing has become a whole new discipline. Marketers need to understand what this means for them and their content, and adapt their strategies accordingly.

The biggest single factor that determines how people respond to a given stimulus is context, and this means that we routinely misattribute feelings created by the environment to the actual focus of our attention. This is why, for example, the wine you adored on holiday and bought by the case didn't taste the same when you opened it back in the mundane surroundings of your home.

So what does this new trend to 'marketing on the move' mean for you and your marketing campaigns? Some recent findings in consumer psychology can help cast a light on this phenomenon and ensure your organisation doesn't become one of those overwhelmed by the pace of change.

E-marketing on the move
We now know that human behaviour is largely driven by the unconscious mind. Possessed with the capacity to process far more information, far more quickly than the conscious mind, it is the primary job of the unconscious to filter for what's 'important' and direct our conscious attention toward it. This filtering is done automatically and instantly, without us being aware of it.

Beyond that, we also rely on our unconscious mind to save energy by handling routine actions efficiently and, rather than work something out from scratch, we frequently fall back on unconsciously held heuristics (rules of thumb) to help us act and react with minimal effort.

This highlights the first challenge to marketers: eMarketing encountered on smartphones is being experienced in one of a myriad of contexts. It is impossible to know at what moment a message will be accessed or, therefore, what contextual cues its recipient will encounter around the same time. Numerous psychological studies have demonstrated how elements in the surroundings that should be irrelevant alter how people respond to the same stimulus. To give just three examples:

  1. When classical background music was played in a wine store, customers spent up to three times as much on a bottle of wine in comparison to pop music.
  2. The reaction to adverts of people who knew a lot about cars could be influenced by whether or not they were first shown an ad featuring a prestigious brand or an everyday one.
  3. Women shopping in a DIY store with a female companion have been observed to spend on average 75% longer than someone on her own.

This challenge presents three broad options for marketers:

  1. Ignore the potential for variation in context and hope for the best.
  2. Guess at the most likely factors to influence eMarketing on the move and include them in the design of your campaigns.
  3. Develop sufficiently sophisticated data profiling to identify the context in which eMarketing is received and target consumers with a suitably nuanced message.

While option three is, undoubtedly, the optimum route, particularly when a powerful 'test and learn' capability is supporting it (of which more later), option two is a pragmatic place to start.

The smartphone attention deficit
eMarketing received on a smartphone is likely to be given less attention than that encountered on a PC for three reasons: First, there is likely to be something else competing for the recipient's attention at that time which will influence their response. Second, the physical scale of the device means that there is less space with which to generate impact and gain the recipient's attention. And third, the nature of the device the message is being viewed on, and the way in which the recipient is used to interacting with it, will generate a particular type of mind-set (e.g. finger scrolling, pinch to zoom in/out, and so on).

In such circumstances, the instantaneous reaction to the sender's name and the subject line are of paramount importance if any further communication is to stand a chance of taking place.

We can see the consequences of these changes permeating through social media. Despite the initial scepticism of many, Twitter is now part of the vernacular. People are evidently very happy to condense social interactions to just 140 characters. The other platform synonymous with social media, Facebook, is hardly a paragon of lengthy prose either. Instead, people have succumbed to what is almost inevitable in terms of evolutionary psychology; they trade off quality for convenience.

Many people have also become adept at managing the multiple channels of communication that have emerged in the very recent past. According to a study conducted last year, while media multitasking has been shown to make people less capable in some cognitive tasks, people who frequently use different types of media at the same time are demonstrably better at combining information from multiple sources: it's become a skill.

And the indications are that we don't worry too much about being less good at thinking things through when we 'media multitask'; rather we delude ourselves that we're being productive because, while we perform less well, it makes us feel better. Researchers found that people were more likely to multitask when they should have been studying or working, and that although it seemed to reduce their effectiveness, it made them feel good.

The mere act of checking messages and social media has, for many, become an unconscious habit. A 2011 study found that participants, on average, checked their phone for messages 34 times a day. Rather than seeking something specific, this is usually a compulsive habit: if someone feels bored a message offers the possibility of something psychologically rewarding. The fact that the message can frequently be mundane doesn't diminish the activity because checking requires such little effort: it is an action that has been repeated so frequently that it occurs without the requirement for conscious engagement.

The full white paper goes on to explain why this degree of media multitasking has become a habit for most consumers, and identify the key challenges for successful eMarketing in the age of the media-multitasker.

The paper also draws several conclusions and lessons about the psychology of eMarketing communications. For example, it concludes that profiling and targeting consumers is of vital importance now. One study that analysed the content of 124,000 text messages observed significant differences in the use of emoticons between the genders. While women were twice as likely as men to use emoticons, reflecting a generally-held belief that emotion is more important to women in interactions, men actually used a wider range of emoticons. Another study looked at the impact of pronouns on reactions to marketing messages, and found that, depending on the nature of the existing relationship with the customer, talking about 'we' (for the customer and the brand) or 'you and us' significantly shaped the attitude people had toward the brand in question.

Conclusions
Given all the many external factors and influences described above, it would be understandable if marketers felt somewhat daunted when faced with the task of reaching out to people on the move. However, eMarketing, and email marketing in particular, provides an environment in which, with the right approach, success can be almost guaranteed. The key is experimentation. Whatever you choose to call it - A/B testing, split testing, test and learn, field trials - there is no substitute for trial and error. Crucially, it lets you evaluate your content in the context where it will be encountered, which easily beats anything you might be able to evaluate in traditional market research.

Throughout all of the changes we're seeing, one thing always remains constant: the key to marketing success is ruthless brand consistency. In the fragmented, attention-depleted media environment we inhabit, it is more important than ever that each new encounter with a brand reinforces the same implicit associations as the previous one. Such congruence and consistency convinces our unconscious mind that we can believe in the product and the experience it will deliver.

The full white paper has been made available for free download from the Emarsys web site - click here (free registration required).