Business or pleasure? Targeting the always-on 'pro-sumer'

Consumers are increasingly using the same devices in both their professional and home lives. And while delivering the right message to the right user at the right time is a well known challenge for digital advertisers, there is now the complication of knowing what mode they are in. So, how are businesses working with data to further hone their messaging to this unique societal trend?

The traditional lines between leisure and labour hours are increasingly blurred, as a globalised workforce with the capability to be connected 24/7 leads to the rise of the ‘pro-sumer’.

Typically defined as someone in the market to buy high quality technical products or equipment (think IT director or even chief information officer) the pro-sumer is an individual who is often consuming content in different mindsets, both as an enthusiast for their profession as well as with a business hat on.

Think of the aforementioned IT director who could be researching the purchase of an IT infrastructure mainframe worth hundreds of thousands of pounds on an IT website in the morning and later that day be researching the best laptop to buy for their son or daughter. Both activities pose advertising opportunities for IT software/hardware providers (in this instance).

However, these behaviours can often happen on the same device (or ‘matched’ devices, such as an iPhone or iPad tethered to the same iTunes accounts) sending off similar data signals whenever the same user is in very different purchasing mindsets.

BYOD

This is only exacerbated by the concept of bring-your-own-device (BYOD), with research firm Gartner estimating that 38 per cent of employers will stop providing devices to employees by the end of 2016. Adding to this, enterprises are also taking out flat-rate subscriptions with mobile operators, leaving employees free to use their device for both business and pleasure.

So while consumers have never consumed more media, it’s the fragmentation, both in terms of screens and fluidity of behaviours, that complicates the issue.

Advertisers and media owners appreciate this, however, and are tailoring their offerings to reflect this shift in media consumption patterns. Primarily, this involves employing data and analytics providers to help refine their messaging to accommodate what mindset a user is in.

Enthusiast and business decision maker

Firstly, let’s address the classic pro-sumer segment, ie the person who makes high-value purchase decisions, often within a business context.

Paul Hood, who heads up Dennis Publishing’s digital technology division, explains how the publisher handles the blurring between consumers and business users, telling us that the growing realisation of this phenomenon was behind the decision to close one of its flagship B2B tech brand’s (PCPro) website in favour of a more ‘consumer-like’ proposition, Alphr.com.

“We took the decision to replace it with a fresh new content proposition that would appeal to a broad base of tech advocates throughout the line of business, from marketing to sales to the boardroom,” he says.

“In its place, we launched Alphr.com – representing a fundamental shift of editorial direction, to reflect the way that technology is now impacting all areas of our lives.”

The key insight was that the B2B technology procurement processes had fundamentally changed in recent years, he explains. “Whereas in the past, technology purchases in companies were largely driven by the IT department, the phenomena of BYOD had begun to break this model apart, putting power over IT purchasing into the hands of influencers throughout the company,” adds Hood.

This means the kind of employee that helps drive these decisions will be “lovers of technology in the rest of their lives”, according to Hood, who adds that traffic to its site is largely consistent, and not necessarily in line with ‘office hours’.

What is a prosumer?

The term ‘prosumer’ first emerged in the early dotcom era from futurologists eager to describe enthusiasts who buy products that fall between professional and consumer grade (such as cameras, etc.). It’s quite simply, the blurring between our personal and professional lives.

More recently, however, it has come to represent a hybridisation of the term ‘production by consumers’, where the consumer is also regarded as an ‘influencer’, and engaged as a potential brand advocate by businesses.

The Drum has decided to hyphenate the term to ‘pro-sumer’ to reflect the evolution of the above two instances, but also to incorporate the fluidity of the work/life cycle many people operate within.

Hood points out statistics that back up this theory. Within six months of its launch, Alphr.com has overtaken some of its key competitors in the UK market.

“The editorial product has also proved extremely attractive to premium brand advertisers including Google, Audi, HP and BMW,” says Hood, demonstrating the broad church that is Alphr.com’s audience, and subsequent interested advertisers.

In addition, Hood claims there is a natural set of early adopter in businesses such as Amazon, Google and SalesForce which offer enterprise services. “It’s natural for companies like Google to get involved, as they were the first to understand what the ‘office of the future’ will look like,” he adds.

Using data to decipher the context

From Hood’s evidence, the case for advertising to such an audience is clear, but given the fluidity of the mindsets 21st century audiences occupy, the challenge involves inserting the right offering into that context. For instance, when should HP advertise an enterprise IT product to our aforementioned chief information officer, and when should it serve them with an ad for consumer laptop?

The answer lies in data or, more accurately, the intelligent use of it, rather then simply firing retargeted ads at a cookie or device ID, says Daryn Mason, senior director of customer experience at enterprise IT giant Oracle.

The key, according to Mason, is to use a data management platform (DMP) to generate insights about a user, and then using further indicators or variables (time of day for instance) to subdivide the “personas” we all occupy.

“You have to be able to seamlessly hand over from one to the other,” he says, adding that Oracle Marketing Cloud’s DMP BlueKai allows you to “do this from a multi-device standpoint, and then filter further”.

Joe Reid, EU managing director at DMP provider Krux, says this filtering process then has to export insights, or commands, into an ad server which then helps select what message to serve a user. “This way,” he says, “you can work out what the intent of the user is.”

Erfan Djazmi, head of planning and mobile for EMEA at GroupM’s Essence, explains how the media buying agency goes about this process for its client base, which includes a host of names that have both consumer and enterprise services, such as Google and HP.

This involves matching context with relevant creative – a technique that is lightyears away from the age-old planning construct of reaching the right audience demographic with the right interest.

“Our approach is to focus on moments that define the audience’s day, at work or at home. We know a lot about the audience through first, second and third-party data,” he adds.

“When we match this with targeting signals like time of day, location, app ownership and weather, this then brings messages relevant to the audience in a particular moment and context that is valuable to their life.”

The societal shift in working habits is placing demands on brands to dissect their communications strategy. According to a recent Trades Union Congress survey, the average UK worker now works 48 hours a week, but on a disjointed basis, indicating that businesses, both brands and smaller businesses, will have to tailor their strategy accordingly.

This feature was first published in The Drum's B2B special issue on 24 February.

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