Why smartphones need some brand new thinking

The remote control revolutionized how we watched TV—making channel surfing possible, allowing us to avoid commercials and forcing brands to work harder for our attention.

Today's remote control is far smarter and more interactive: the smartphone. No longer is the remote control used only to make life easier in the armchair, but it is used on-the-go to run your life. Are you reading this on your smartphone right now?

The proliferation of smartphone apps, and our willingness to use them to chat, bank, order dinner and even maintain a healthy lifestyle is not simply evolutionary, it's revolutionary.

As consumers, we now have the power to decide how pervasive smartphone technology is in our everyday lives.

The advent of the smartphone as remote control for our lives has resulted in behavior changes for consumers, and necessitates behavior changes for brands.

Internet of Everything < Internet of Everyone

Smartphone texting
Jetta Productions | Getty Images

In this age of highly personalized and customized connectivity, consumers truly control their online destinies. Groceries can be ordered online and delivered by the local market, sometimes with fresh, premeasured ingredients to prepare meals. Consumers decide delivery times, how they'd like to be notified when an order is on its way, and whether to repurchase or alter their next order.

Smartphones also play an important role in safety and security. ADT for example empowers customers to set home alarms even when we're away from the house. Nest enables consumers to adjust the temperature in their homes with a few taps from the smartphone app.

Smartphones, wearables and apps on all platforms have an equally critical role in managing our personal health—from tracking our number of steps taken, to calories eaten, ordering prescriptions refills, or even seeing a doctor virtually through your smartphone. In addition, consumers are spending more time researching medical symptoms and investigating diagnoses. In fact, according to Google, 5 percent of Google search traffic is tied to health-related queries, and 50 percent of all smartphone users have looked up health info online, on the go.

The number of ways we can remote-control our lives is growing exponentially. How much more will we as consumers adapt?

An Attention Deficit, Deficit

A recent Microsoft study found that our attention span is shrinking, down to eight seconds in 2015 from 12 seconds in 2000 as we engage more often with our devices. Yes, the attention span of humans is now one second shorter than that of your average goldfish. There is literally an attention deficit underfoot, and brands have to work harder to counter that.

So, in this new remote controlled world, how do brands succeed in capturing our attention and influencing our decisions in those eight seconds? A few tips include:

  1. Be visually engaging—a photo can grab consumer attention and get them to click forward faster than a description.
  2. Write for Google search—the words you choose to describe your products should be the words consumers choose to search for them. The greater the correlation the easier your products will be to find. Humanize your brand voice—If consumers are going to engage with you they want you to be responsive, have empathy when things go wrong and feel you are meeting their personal needs.
  3. Influencers rule in the trust equation—Today, third-party validation by earned media and influencers are more important than ever to purchasing decisions. Don't put all your eggs in the electronic basket—The new interaction is online and offline. Brand voice is a big part of winning consumers' trust but it must be consistent with your experience.
  4. Relationships allow for apologies—In today's fast-paced world many brands face reputation challenges. The quicker a company is to personally apologize for a small inconvenience, or have executives address a larger reputation issue, the greater chance they have of keeping your trust.

It is fascinating to see how far technology has come in such a short period of time, and how our consumer behavior has changed as a result. Smartphones have placed immense power into the hands of the consumer—to shop, eat, track our health, manage our entertainment and make us feel safer—all with a click.

Are brands putting enough emphasis on the ubiquity of technology as a do-or-die element of their marketing strategies? Will those that don't dedicate the necessary resources not make it out the other end of the digital revolution? Time will tell.

And yes, you can also change the channel with your smart phone.

Barri Rafferty is Senior Partner and chief executive at Ketchum North America