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What is a digital-first consumer? How do brands engage with this savvy, connected audience?

According to research by ITU, there are over 3 million people online worldwide and 2.7 billion people using smartphones[1]. In addition, increasingly, digital is becoming the main and often only channel used for everyday activities by consumers, replacing voice and in-person interactions.

A growing breed of consumers who select a digital option as the first source of interaction are known as the “digital first”. They prefer to engage in activities such as seeking a product or entertainment, contacting a brand, connecting with friends, or looking for love through digital means.

The digital-first consumer is a challenging target for marketers and customer service representatives. This group expects immediate access to brands when they require information or help. They do not however, necessarily enjoy brands contacting them without first offering something of relevance and value at the right time.

For example, if a digital-first consumer has an issue with a product or service, they will expect a brand to be available 24/7, on their channel of choice. If however, the brand happens to offer an irrelevant promotion, the company’s efforts will be considered annoying, or even worse, as “spam.” Should the brand breaks the rules of the digital-first generation, the consumer will “opt-out” – either via unsubscribing, unfollowing, or simple distancing themselves from the brand forever. In the digital era, the consumer has more power and control than ever, and brands need to pay attention to their individual needs.

So, how can organisations transform their customer strategies to satisfy this growing population? The first step lies in understanding the motivations and behaviors of the digital-first generation.

Who is the digital-first?

Digital-first is a way of life; it is not a demographic. Digital-firsts accept that technologies have forever changed the way we experience all things. Daily activities are guided and enriched by digital. For example, workouts have never been more fun as people can now track their distances achieved or kilojoules burned in real-time through apps and wearables, while listening to music via music streaming platforms, such as Spotify. For those who prefer to hit the couch instead of the gym, the recent launch of movie and TV streaming platform, Netflix in Australia, should satisfy digital-firsts’ viewing needs.

Thinking that the digital-first consumers are all millennials is a grave misconception. In fact, it may come as a surprise that the use of the Internet for financial transactions, whether via desktop, tablet or mobile now transcends generational divides. According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)*, the use of transactional m-commerce has grown across all age groups since December 2010. In fact, from December 2010 to December 2013 the percentage of people leveraging m-commerce online between the ages of 35-64 almost doubled.[2]

Establishing a digital connection

Digital-firsts prefer to stay connected with family and friends through rich, one-on-one digital channels, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facetime, and Viber to name a few channels. For example, in the last quarter of 2014, Snapchat became the fastest-growing app, according to TechCrunch[3].

Maintaining human-to-human connections within consumers’ personal lives is far from what it used to be. In turn, the brand-to-consumer relationship has been forced to evolve. With digital-firsts, following both their favourite brands and people in the same spaces, brands have to compete with friends and family for attention, without crossing each other’s paths. It is a matter of meeting consumers on their preferred channels and own time without forcing the brand into a personal space with outbound or invasive approaches.

In order to capture consumer hearts, brands must be aware of the following three key challenges when engaging the digital-first generation.

  1. Digital-first consumers expect ‘always-on’ support

Today’s consumer expects instant gratification, no matter the channel. In fact, online consumers will not wait more than 76 seconds before receiving support. There is a catch to this. While digital-firsts want to be able to reach your company whenever they need to, the expectation does not go both ways.  Organisations should therefore, offer access to digital communications like chat and text during peak hours, seasons, and especially for high impact customers. Businesses should also ensure that these real-time communications span all channels, especially mobile.

  1. Digital-firsts demand personalised, relevant experiences

Digital firsts are quick to “opt-out” of anything that seems irrelevant. Now that brands have a place in more personal channels, they must engage on a more personal level. Digital consumers are easily annoyed with content that’s not relevant, especially when it’s passing through their news feeds alongside family photos.

Organisations may not know its consumers as well as their friends, but data does. New technologies give brands the context and intelligence they need to understand consumers, and provide content and engagements that are helpful and exciting. With smart technologies, such as predictive intelligent targeting, brands can provide rich, tailored engagements armed with insight into consumer behavior.

Digital intelligence fosters an experience that cannot be matched by the traditional 1-800 number. It is becoming clear that chat is going to overcome voice when it comes to how companies are communicating with their customers.

  1. Digital-firsts want to talk to a real person

Even though in general, consumers are becoming more digital, they still want to engage with a human, and not an automated interactive voice response or an FAQ page. Through live chat, visitors can connect with their favourite subject matter experts, and get the personalised advice that they need.

Brands that can intelligently use technology deliver a human touch, much like digital-firsts use technology to enhance their personal relationships, will ensure that they can maintain a competitive advantage with this fast growing audience.

About the Author:

Steve Fitzjohn, Regional Director, APAC at LivePerson.

[1] ITU, ‘ITU releases annual global ICT data and ICT Development Index country rankings’,

[2] ACMA, ‘m-Commerce: Mobile transactions in Australia’,

* ACMA figures sourced from Roy Morgan Research.

[3] TechCrunch, ‘Tumblr Overtakes Instagram As Fastest-Growing Social Platform, Snapchat Is The Fastest-Growing App’,

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