Humanize the digital experience: Forrester analyst Overby

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CHICAGO - Christine Spivey Overby, principal analyst at Forrester Research, made it abundantly clear to the 900 executives in the packed Grand Ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton.

Consumers and marketers are at a crossroads with technology, she told delegates from the nation's leading marketers attending Forrester's Consumer Forum 2006.

"We're at a point where mainstream consumers are coming online and they're not going to put up with the same technology hassles," Ms. Overby said.

Technology today is far removed from the brick-like cell phones, heavy laptops, portable boom boxes and the Arpanet, the Internet's precursor. Those products were designed for use by specialists and early adopters, but in their current iteration are mainstream products.

Ms. Overby showed examples of a 2.4-pound laptop computer as well as the $100 laptop being promoted for poor nations. The wide use of such technologies as laptops, the Internet, cell phones and broadband means consumers are interacting all the more with digital channels.

She said that mainstream consumers have a low tolerance for technology hassles, timing out if things don't work.

Citing research, Ms. Overby said marketers have "eight seconds to make an impression with your homepage."

Forrester research on mainstream consumers showed concern over privacy. Only 31 percent of Web buyers think their credit cards are more secure.

In other findings, mainstream consumers trust marketers less, Ms. Overby said. Also, going online has eroded trust in corporations, according to Forrester. Not surprisingly, mainstream customers trust each other more.

Ms. Overby's call, and the Forrester Consumer Forum 2006 theme, is simple: humanize the digital experience. Which means the digital channels should be "available to all, meaningful to one," as she put it. Everyone who wants to interact with the brand should be able to, while connecting with relevance.

Marketers should ask three questions, Ms. Overby said.

First, what makes digital experiences more compelling - available to all, meaningful to one? Next, how do you design and support the humanized digital experience? Finally, what's the return on investment of digital experiences?

Ms. Overby's final appeal to the audience of marketing executives assembled in frigid Chicago was urgent.

"It's time for the digital experience to become the human experience," she said.

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