When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone 10 years ago, no one fully anticipated the societal transformation that would take place in the decade that followed. The device that combined access to the internet, a phone, a camera and an iPod has done more than change the way we go online, talk on the phone or listen to music; it has paved the way for new businesses and entire sectors to emerge and grow. And these businesses—from Facebook to Instagram to Spotify to many others—have revolutionised the way we communicate, conduct business, travel, date and shop. They've also shifted our preferences, desires and expectations—especially those we have for brands.
While consumers have quickly adapted to these changes, brands have been slower to acclimatise. Sure, they've seized the opportunity to place ads in new places. But fewer have discovered how to communicate and interact with customers in ways they now expect and want most.
How, exactly, has the iPhone transformed consumer behaviour and, more importantly, how can brands make the most of it today?
Consumers as Content Creators
To state the obvious, people like pictures: 65 percent of us are visual learners and we watch over a billion hours of YouTube videos each day. While the iPhone surely hasn't made us this way, it's clear that now more than ever, consumers have an insatiable thirst for images.
The iPhone has, however, done something else: it's given all of us the opportunity to become creators of visual content. With smartphones, we carry powerful and compact cameras in our pockets, making us all de facto photographers and artists. And we're prolific, too, sharing 2.8 billion Snapchat updates and 95 million Instagram photos and videos each day.
Brands that want to reach consumers need more than catchy words: they'll need images. Fortunately, today's strong and steady stream of user-generated content (UGC) means that the world of content creation no longer rests on the shoulders of advertising teams and professional graphic designers. Consumers, too, are creating countless images of their worlds—including images of the products they buy and the brands they like.
The deluge of UGC has also made consumers want—and expect—more of it. This is especially true when it comes to the products we're looking to buy. Consumers today seek images they can relate to: images that are personalised and crafted by people just like us.
Rather than spending time and money on glossy photo shoots, brands can—and should—capitalise on images created by their customers. Not only will they save on costs, but they will also engage more deeply with consumers by showing them the kind of content they want to see.
Consumers as Social (and) Sharing Types
As content-generating creatures, we don't just take photos and keep them to ourselves; we actively share them with our friends, families, peers and strangers. Thanks to the iPhone, we have access to fast and powerful internet wherever we go, giving us the ability to consume and share content from anywhere at any time: in the decade since the iPhone was launched, we've all become mobile artists with instant global audiences.
These capabilities and experiences have also changed consumer expectations. We expect friends, peers and even companies to react and respond to us across platforms. Brands that don't interact with consumers on the platforms they use every day miss out on unique opportunities to reach their ideal audiences. They'll also disappoint social media users eager to connect with the brands they love.
Consumers as Arbiters of Honesty
In a recent study, a staggeringly low six percent of people surveyed say they trust traditional advertising. And it's no wonder: With content created by their peers available at the click of a button thanks to smartphones, can stage lighting and Photoshop really encourage trust among consumers?
Potential customers don't just take a brand's word for it anymore; they tend to check an average of three sources of information before making a purchase. Often, those sources include UGC, which 46 percent of respondents say they trust more than any other form of content.
How can brands respond to consumers' search for honesty in brand communications? Rather than creating their own stale photos with actors and white backdrops, brands should take advantage of the high-quality, authentic content consumers are already creating. When they do, they'll not only be seen as more honest; they'll see increased engagement and sales, too.
Over the past ten years, the iPhone has made all of our lives simpler. We now navigate our way to new places without carrying maps; we make purchases without leaving the couch; and we communicate with loved ones from the palm of our hands.
It's also changed the work that marketers do; consumers have begun doing some of the legwork for brands, using their phones to hand-craft authentic images of the merchandise they browse and buy. Brands that capitalise on UGC will delight a large and growing number of individuals eager to see trustworthy, personalised content and interact with the brands they love. They'll also be rewarded with greater engagement, a better reputation, and higher ROI.