Mind the gap is an announcement familiar to anybody passing through Bank station on London's Underground. It has also become an annual warning from the fast.MAP Marketing Gap study. Now in its ninth year, the survey has yet again revealed how easily marketers fall into the trap of thinking that their customers look just like them. As a result, many marketing campaigns risk becoming vanity projects.
Recession and the constraints on consumer spending appear to be widening this divide. Take the findings from questions about how people review, research and switch their insurance, credit and utilities products, in a section of the survey sponsored by Callcredit Marketing Services. Marketers try to craft an entire ecosystem of messages and touchpoints, building out into a compelling customer journey. Yet in one key finding, as many as 73 per cent ticked "other" as their source of information for comparing credit products. Not bank branches or websites, not social media or brand marketing, not even friends and family. Consumers have slipped the leash and are finding their own way towards the products and services they need.
That challenges many assumptions which digital marketers are making based on consumer adoption of social media and the Big Data it is generating. In another finding from questions sponsored by the IDM, the majority of consumers said they do not share content online. That puts paid to virality and the notion of conducting a conversation between the brand and its customers in these new spaces.
Not that everybody accepts what consumers say about themselves, of course. One of the main challenges for marketers is winning the battle for attention against all the other content out there. With the proliferation of devices, consumers are now saturated with choices. Many have taken to two-screen consumption, watching TV while also looking at a portable device. Ofcom has dubbed this dual screen attention "media stacking" and also sees far less time being spent on mobile than marketers assume.
But even here, the assumption by marketers that smartphones and tablets are taking over is ahead of the curve - 66 per cent of consumers say they do not own a tablet and 28 per cent have not got a smartphone. The installed based of tethered PCs may have been overtaken by laptops as the main device used to access the Internet, but those newer devices lag far behind.
Yet some in the industry contest this view of consumers as technology laggards - one mobile practitioner at last week's launch of fast.MAP's research claimed that the Ofcom figure for minutes spent on mobile is the square root of the real behaviour. That is a dramatic difference in view.
Access to the latest technology is one of the benefits of working in marketing and much of marketing’s output is directed towards gaining uptake of each new device. Finding out that your target audience is not paying attention to those messages and has yet to upgrade can be dispiriting.
For all that, consumer behaviour is evolving and mobile access to the web is undoubtedly part of that change. As evidence, consider this warning now being broadcast to travellers on the Tube: "Stand well clear of the platform edge when using a mobile phone or tablet as you may get bumped and drop your device into the gap between the train and the platform, leading to delays." At least that can't happen with your home PC.
What does technology want? Tom Chatfield, author and BBC Technology columnist, considers how society and behaviour is being changed by the new world of connected devices at this year’s DataIQ Future Summit on 15th October. Find out more at http://www.dqmgroup.com/future2013