LONDON: The great majority of UK businesses are seeing a rise in the number of connected consumers and realise engaging with these has to be a strategic priority yet less than one third actually have a strategy in place to achieve this.

This gap was highlighted by the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) which commissioned a survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit, as part of its Know the Value of Media project, to discover how companies are adjusting their strategies to target and sell to connected customers.

An online survey of 176 UK business executives, covering a range of functions, industries and business size, found that 84% thought a growing proportion of their consumer base was now connected and three quarters understood the need to engage with them. But only 29% had addressed this.

In part this may be because, as the IPA remarked, "connected customers make companies nervous about protecting brands and reputations". One of the biggest worries – the biggest for 40% of respondents – was that interacting with connected customers would lead to adverse online comments and social media posts. That proportion rose to 55% among those about to deploy a mobile strategy.

As it is, communicating via email will remain the preferred form of communication for most over the next three years, although among the larger companies social media will come to the fore. The proportion of this group viewing social media as the preferred form of communication has leapt from 5% over the last three years to 45% over the next three years.

The preference for email was reflected in the fact that businesses found it easier to share information (63% said they were good at this) than to have a dialogue (54%). The survey revealed, however, that this difference was rather more marked for those businesses which already had a strategy to sell through mobile: 84% of these expressed confidence in sharing information compared to 63% who said the same about holding an instant dialogue.

Another interesting survey finding was that only 35% of respondents believed that stronger analysis of customer data could help retain customers. Most put their faith in the quality of the product or service, with an accompanying social media presence and a mobile-friendly site.

Data sourced from IPA; additional content by Warc staff