How activity determines device: what marketers can learn from consumers' screen choices
A view from Hannu Verkasalo

How activity determines device: what marketers can learn from consumers' screen choices

Consumers use different devices depending on their need, and their choice of screen reveals where media buyers should focus their attention.

Today’s consumer moves between screens in a liquid fashion, however device usage in certain sectors aligns to one type more than others.

Therefore, its crucial marketers understand to what degree the different devices and screens are used for different purposes. Let’s start with some stats to illustrate the point.

Health and fitness related behaviour – such as using Fitbit or visiting the NHS website – is the one most dominated by smartphone usage. Smartphones account for 82% of the time people spend visiting health and fitness sites and apps. People/family/lifestyle sites – such as Netmums and BBC Good Food – tend to be the next most dominated by smartphone usage (69%) followed by sports (63%).

To properly meet performance expectations, marketers must learn to understand consumers’ digital behaviour. 

In contrast, property activity – such as surfing Rightmove and Zoopla – is the only one dominated by tablet usage. Tablets account for two-thirds of people’s online property time. In turn, technology (84%) – such as visiting telecom brands Virgin and BT – and government and law-related activity (83%) are the most reliant on PC usage.

To properly meet performance expectations, marketers must learn to understand consumers’ digital behaviour. How much time are your target consumers spending on PC versus mobile? How does this benchmark against your competitors? You should use these insights to adapt your approach to how people are actually behaving.

For example, is the rush to embrace mobile right for you? Clearly it is for the likes of health, lifestyle and sports, while property surfing seems absolutely made for tablets. However, it’s certainly not the case for government, law and telecoms sites. People still prefer to use PCs for this functional, practical type of behaviour.

Brands planning activity around online news and weather, in particular, should take heed of the reality of how people behave and not necessarily rush to target mobile.

Despite all the fanfare about "news on the go," PCs still account for two-thirds of the time people spend consuming news and weather content online, while mobile accounts for less than a fifth.

Mobile can play a disproportionate role during the research phase but then can drop off the radar entirely when it comes to purchasing.

In contrast, entertainment behaviour – including the likes of YouTube, Netflix and Spotify – and shopping and books are the least dominated by any particular device. Behaviour here is the most evenly split across the different devices in terms of time spent. Consequently, communications activity targeting these behaviours has the luxury of taking a more device-agnostic approach.

However, even then, activity can differ dramatically depending on what part of the funnel a target prospect might be. Mobile can play a disproportionate role during the research phase but then can drop off the radar entirely when it comes to purchasing.

A good media planning strategy has always been about putting the consumer at the centre but measuring where this is, is vastly more complex as consumers move fluidly across channels. Broadly speaking, people prefer bigger screens for video, computers for ecommerce, mobile devices for location-based and contextual services and wearables for tracking sports activities.

However, as technology and devices continue to evolve, these preferences are changing over time. Consequently, planners and marketers need to continually be on top of research to evolve metrics and strategies to account for new or unexpected variances in behaviour.

To influence and reach the consumer for the right intended outcome, one should think about whether cross-device advertising or other forms of marketing are needed, or not. Sometimes a purely mobile, or desktop-based ad campaign is just enough.

Furthermore, the planning should be built around the intended outcome (be it to visit a web page, to download a new app, to build brand affinity or recall etc.) and how to best influence the consumer to reach that outcome.

Brands who can holistically think about all marketing from the consumer-centric viewpoint will win in the long run. One should think about the consumer, primarily in terms of how today's version are becoming more complex and their behaviour developing more rapidly.

Don’t get hooked with "it’s all about mobile" or "embrace cross-device advertising" but reassess your marketing strategy constantly and challenge yourself and your agencies frequently.

Hannu Verkasalo is chief executive of Verto Analytics.

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