A report by the world’s largest research company has revealed how brands are not connecting with consumers online, with many people resenting ‘big brands’ invading their timelines.
The global study, the TNS Digital Life Survey 2011, says businesses are “wasting time and money” by not listening to what consumers want. Consumers in 60 countries were surveyed by TNS, a Kantar company and part of WPP (NASDAQ:WPPGY).
The survey drilled down to regions, and showed how sub-Saharan Africa reflects the same attitude as those surveyed around the world. It found that 57% of people (online) in Sub-Saharan Africa do not want to engage with brands via social media – rising to 60% in the South Africa.
Businesses across the world have developed profiles on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and YouTube so as to ‘speak’ to customers. But TNS’s research reveals that if these efforts are not carefully targeted, they are wasted on the majority of people.
TNS says “misguided” digital strategies are generating “mountains of digital waste”, from friendless Facebook accounts to blogs no one reads. This is being combined with ever-increasing content produced by consumers – the study shows 47% of consumers, globally, now comment about brands online. (This is in contrast to only 7% of those online in South Africa, one of the lowest incidences in the world and South Africans are clearly less interested in commenting on brands in the social media space).
“Winning and keeping customers is harder than ever,” said Matthew Froggatt, chief development officer, TNS. “The online world undoubtedly presents massive opportunities for brands. However, it is only through deploying precisely tailored marketing strategies that they will be able to recognise this potential. Choosing the wrong channel, or simply adding to the cacophony of online noise risks alienating potential customers and impacting business growth.”
TNS’s Digital Life study asked online consumers around the world whether they actually want to engage with brands on social networking websites – either to find out more or to make a purchase.
Although, globally, 44 per cent of people admit social networks are a good place to learn about products (and 57% of South Africans share this sentiment), the research shows brands must harness digital more carefully if they are to use it to their advantage and deepen relationships with customers and prospects.
The study also reveals big geographic contrasts that highlight the risks of brands employing a catch-all approach that does not take the needs of different consumers into consideration.
Froggatt explains: “Digital waste is the accumulation of thousands of brands rushing online without thinking who they want to talk to – and why. Many brands have recognised the vast potential audiences available to them on social networks; however, they are failing to understand that these spaces belong to the consumer and their presence needs to be proportionate and justified.
“The key is to understand your target audience and what they want from your brand – social networks aren’t always the right approach. If consumers in one market don’t want to be talked to, can you use an alternative online method – creating owned digital media platforms, targeted sponsorship or search campaigns – to engage in an appropriate way that will achieve business results, without adding to the digital waste pile?”
TNS’s Digital Life study also sheds vital light on why people do engage with brands online. Forty-six per cent of global internet users who are motivated to post comments on companies do so for the simple desire to impart or ask for advice. This compares with 41% in South Africa.
Findings showed that more people like to praise than complain online (13% vs 11%). This is true in South Africa too, with 17% more likely to praise vs 9% who post comments to complain. The Spanish are the least likely to praise online, with just one in ten people saying that they would do this, and Nigerians are the most likely to complain about brands online (15%).
However, motivations of online commentators can be self-serving. Sixty-one percent of online consumers are driven to engage with brands online by a promotion or special offer. Again, South Africans show very little interest in brands or offers online with only 10% engaging with brands on social networks because of promotions or special offers.
When examining global contrasts, TNS found that consumers in fast growth markets are keen to spend more time and money online than they currently do – presenting major growth opportunities for brands.
There are, however, infrastructure challenges still to be overcome in these countries before businesses can really tap into the enthusiasm for the digital world. Forty-eight of people in fast growth markets would use the internet more if it was less expensive – rising sharply in Africa, to 81% of people in Ghana, 71% in Nigeria, 68% in Kenya and 51% in South Africa.
Likewise, while just a quarter of people in developed markets see social networks as a place to buy products, this rises to 48% across fast growth markets and 64% in Sub-Saharan Africa (and 40% in South Africa). And when it comes to online shopping habits, Asian consumers are leading the adoption of group buying and purchase via mobile. Almost half (46%) of consumers in China already use group buying tools – this is still low in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa at 9% and 4% respectively.
Adoption of shopping via mobile is also high in the region – 34% of mobile internet users in China and South Korea shop on their phone, but again, only 5% of South Africans shop using their mobile phone.
“There is a huge appetite for increased internet access and mobile services among consumers in fast growth markets. Digital Life shows that as online communities mature, brands that can cut through the digital noise have fantastic potential to drive rapid growth from this nascent consumer base,” Froggatt said.