In a time of global uncertainty and fast-paced innovation in an increasingly tech-enabled world, consumers are looking for more from their brands. More innovation, of course, but with more accountability and a greater sense of purpose, as fears and anxiety grow over how tech might disrupt their lives.
Technology-based fears, fed by recent tech scandals, high profile data breaches, increased regulations such as GDPR and issues around content moderation, are real and at the forefront of consumers’ minds. According to Brands in Motion, the second global study by WE Communications, 84% of 26,897 respondents across eight markets, are worried their personal data is not secure.
It runs far deeper than that, however, with 80% also worried that they or their family could be compromised online; 63% fearing their phone is listening to them; 72% concerned that customer service reps will no longer be human, while 54% worry that artificial intelligence will make their job redundant. Meanwhile, 77% fear hackers could shut down the power grid.
In this first of a series of articles, we will take a deep dive into the technology sector and what the research has unveiled in this sector.
Brands: self-regulate or be regulated
Consumers are unequivocal in their view that brands should be addressing those fears with an overwhelming 97% of the respondents saying brands are responsible for their own ethical use of tech. There are no grey areas here. If brands do not take responsibility for it themselves, 94% of consumers think the government should step in. The message is clear: self-regulate or be regulated.
“There are socio-economic pressures wherever you are in the world,” says Kieran Hannon, chief marketing officer at American tech company Belkin. “There is Brexit and what that will look like, and Greater China, what is happening there? There is a lot of turmoil and uncertainty and during those times people tend to migrate towards comfort and reassurance.”
It is also a catalyst for consumers to seek more control, adds Paul Davies, director of consumer marketing at Microsoft. “Over two-thirds of 16 to 24 want to start their business because they want to take control and stand for something with meaning and purpose in their own lives. They want that in their brands too.”
To stay ahead in this time of unease, brands must combine that strong ethical stance with a clear sense of purpose that demonstrates it does good in the world rather than harm. Sasha Dzhuras, marketing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at iRobot, says the rise of the conscious consumer has already demonstrated the importance of brands with a genuine and positive purpose.
She adds: “Many consumers now want brands to strike a balance between service the needs of a profitable business, but managing their ecological footprint and giving back to nature and society.”
Why are we falling out of love of computing devices brands?
Ethics and purpose must sit on a solid foundation, however, and that has to be a good product with a high level of functionality that meets customer expectations, and fresh innovation. This is particularly true in the computing devices category, covering smart phones, laptops, desktop computers and related software and hardware, which the research shows consumers have fallen out of love with this year.
According to Brands In Motion, which surveyed 4,540 people across the eight markets on this category, computing devices came out top in last year’s report but has seen declines in developed markets such as the US and UK as the rational trumps the emotional. Respondents cannot live without their devices, but the novelty is beginning to wear off.
As the category is maturing and becoming commoditised, consumers are seeing less disruptive innovation and it is taking its toll on perception. In the US, the number of respondents who view brands in this category as cutting edge fell by 9%, while in both the UK and US, the number of consumers who said they could not live without those brand declined by 11% compared to 2017.
Germany, on the other hands, remains positive about the category with no decline in their love for their devices, and South Africa and Singapore, where the category is still developing, also remained more positive.
The category is also suffering the fallout of the tech and data scandals and bearing the brunt of consumer fears, the research found that at least half of the respondents across markets would shame a computing devices brand if it was under attack, While in China, there was a 14% drop in the number of respondents who see computing device brands as socially beneficial.
But we do love the idea of a smart home
While computing devices have lost their shine, the smart home category is beginning to sparkle with the biggest increase in motion across any of the categories. Over half the respondents in the six markets surveyed, rising to nearly three-quarters in the UK and US (US-74% and 73% in UK), see smart home brands as cutting edge.
A majority of the 3,015 respondents on this category, which covers devices and subscription-related hubs, smart appliance, smart entertainment, utilities management, security, are clear they can still live without smart home products in their lives. Their reliance on these products is growing, however, with nearly half of the respondents in all markets saying they would need the industry back if it disappeared overnight.
This significant shift in mind set from 2017’s Brands in Motion report is driven by the increase in products and in the affordability of products, as well as greater buzz around the market improving its visibility. Belkin’s Hannon also believes that voice natural-language user interface in product’s such as Amazon’s Alexa has also been an important driver of take-up.
“It is very easy for everyone to use, even the technophobes,” he explains. “There is definitely a higher degree of comfort with voice.”
The research shows double digit growth in consumers experience in three of the four markets there is year of year data for. This combined with their ability to help and improve people’s everyday lives meaning smart home products have replaced computing devices as the market most likely to excite consumers.
This seems to have appeased concerns about the use of data, despite high levels of anxiety around devices listening in on consumers, and ethics as a majority of respondents believe smart home companies are out for the common good. Fewer consumers compared to the 2017 report say they would shame smart home brands if they were under public attack.
The report, in fact, suggests that smart home products have replaced computing devices as the market most likely to excite customers. China is the one exception here with 3% fewer consumers feeling less love for smart home brands and 4% fewer believing they are exciting or innovative enough. Chinese consumers have a much higher expectation for innovation in this area, and the category is already maturing the same way computing devices have elsewhere.
It appears that smart home products may be in the ascendant while the computing devices market looks set for change. But let's not forget, of course, that several brands including Amazon, AT&T and Google etc play in both of these categories. These brands now need to turn to the smart home category to demonstrate innovation while continuing to flawlessly deliver on the computing devices people view as utilities.