This shift is a complex one. It’s about the value of people’s time, access and experiences. Faster and more frequent communication has allowed brands to push too much at us — and people are looking for ways to control that flow, to get things when they want them, where they want them, and on their terms.
This is most visible in the way we converse: now much less in synchronous phone conversations, and much more in asynchronous social media. Making phone calls has dropped to the fifth most frequent use for smartphones.
IOS 7 has a “Do Not Disturb” feature which, when activated, doesn’t alert users to calls, texts and emails until later.
This push-back behaviour is mainstream too in television viewing. More and more television is being watched, but less and less through conventional broadcast channels. Through on-demand technology like YouTube, TiVo, Hulu, Netflix and iPlayer, people are doing their own timetabling — sometimes consuming bite-size chunks, sometimes bingeing on entire seasons of drama.
Education is changing in a similar way, with online courses — at school and university level — enabling people to learn at their own pace, not according to an institution’s timetable. Coursera has raised $65 million in funding so far to bring online education to emerging markets. The MOOC movement has reached Europe too with a new platform, Futurelearn.
In China, the social media app Weixin has 300 million users, taking part in a group free-form chat which embraces video, voice clips and images. Elsewhere, Snapchat offers a way of sharing things without permanently keeping them — a way of living in the moment. Twitter’s video platform, Vine, gives you six seconds of content liberating both the audience and the creator. It’s being embraced by brands from automative to retail who respond to customers’ tweets with real time video.
Above, Toyota Spain uses Vine to take its cars off the road
In areas like health and wellness, it is less about managing time but rather deepening the experience in that period of time. In this area there’s been a huge upside to our always-on, always connected lifestyle. Advances in digital health are providing access to medical services to people in remote areas, and wearable technology is creating a multi-billion-dollar industry with brands like Nike+ Fuelband, FitBit and Jawbone’s UP.
In 2012, U.S. President Obama answered citizen’s questions about the State of the Union over the White House’s first- ever public Google Hangout.
Increasing concerns about data and privacy are accelerating this. Most consumers are willing to tick the box on terms and conditions, and to accept that they’re giving away valuable data on their behaviour and location — but they want more back in return. And much more than the ‘rewards’ offered by traditional loyalty schemes.
This means that in exchange for data, people want freedom over their time.
The opportunity for companies is to provide more open-ended, flexible, nuanced experiences, and in return to get even deeper insights from customers on what they want, and how they want it. And brand becomes the fulcrum — owned jointly by company and customer — through which this fair exchange happens.
BE TIME CREATIVE
Let people do things on their terms, in their time: total convenience to create the experience they want. Target is introducing simpler CityTarget stores designed to minimise shopping time. Conversely, Starbucks is experimenting with food and wine options that help people slow down and spend longer in-store. How could your interactions with customers become more asynchronous?
Rethink segmentation: consider how different people in different moods want different things. Then let them choose, rather than thrusting things at them. Give people a menu, from quick snacks to longer, deeper experiences.
Think not just about ‘customer relationship management’ but also — to use the phrase of tech guru Doc Searls — ‘vendor relationship management’. How could you help your customers manage their relationship with you, and with your peers, so that they’re in control?
Be generous — particularly in giving people insights you’ve gathered from the data they’ve given you.
Above all, don’t try and control people’s time. Don’t be demanding. Instead, find ways to be completely on-demand. Everyone says: manage your customer relationships. We say: engage on your customers' terms.