How to Bring Consumers Happily Home to Your Brand: An Illustrated Journey


Savvy brands know that consumers can no longer be “sold to.” The seller-buyer relationship has evolved from what once a simple transactional exchange to a complex purchase journey beset with twists and turns, hidden gaps, and paradoxical conundrums.

Given the labyrinth-like nature of today’s purchase journey, brands need new ways to cut through the dizzying levels of complexity, as well as ways to outsmart overly simplistic approaches.

They also need new ways to identify and hack the hidden gaps in the purchase journey in order to create the seamless customer experience that separates the good from the truly great. In short, brands need a clear path and a next-level strategy to build the long-term relationships that bring connected consumers happily home to their brand, again and again.

But, of course, that’s much easier said than done, and there’s not exactly a wealth of relevant, accessible research on the subject. For this reason, we at Zen Media conducted our own extensive research into the connected consumer and pulled together our findings in a comprehensive report, Marketing to Gods: The Definitive Guide to Reaching, Engaging and Retaining the Modern, Empowered Consumer.

In this piece, we’ll first share a visual “roadmap” that provides a high-level overview of our findings, followed by a deeper dive into key highlights from our research, complete with actionable insights that your brand can put to practical use right away.

Let’s get started!

Thanks for taking the illustrated journey! Now, let’s dive deeper into the research!

As you’ve already seen, the central finding of our study is that the connected consumer is characterized by four central paradoxes:

  1. They’re independent, yet interconnected
  2. They’re idealistic, yet discriminating
  3. They’re digitally native, yet highly hands-on
  4. They’re gods, yet all too human

Sound confusing? It was to us too—at least until our research revealed that each of these paradoxes corresponds to a hidden “gap” in the purchase journey that brands need to identify, assess, and strategically hack. Here’s what that looks like.

Independent, yet interconnected

When we interviewed study participants, we found that they were highly independent and felt that they were in full control of their own purchase journeys.

Even so, they still rely heavily on other consumers, as well as brands and products, to affirm and define this independence. Nicole, one of our participants, showed us how this played out during her search for a high-backed armchair to help with her neck and back pain.

First, Nicole searched online for top 10 lists and for reviews of armchairs that mentioned her specific type of neck pain. Ultimately, Nicole told us, she ended up with more than 50 options that she organized on her own using criteria like price, color, neck support and back pain relief.

How to hack the gap: Curate and personalize content, so your customers don’t have to

Many of our other participants reported doing the same thing Nicole did: creating their own methods of comparing different items and brands before making a purchase. You can be certain that a good percentage of your customers are doing the same thing. So think what would happen if you offered customers a built-in, seamless way to do this—without having to create their own spreadsheets or lists?

Personalization and ease of comparison are hugely important to the connected consumer, especially when they’re considering a large or luxury purchase. In fact, Salesforce reports that 80 percent of consumers say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products and services.

Digitally native, yet highly hands-on

Surprisingly, connected consumers still crave the physical experience of walking into a store and seeing and feeling the products, even as e-commerce continues to soar—in fact, it’s predicted that 25 percent of the global population will be shopping online in 2019.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), almost all of the top 50 online retailers also operate stores.

And a majority of the study participants we spoke to said they regularly visit brick-and-mortar retail locations, even if it’s just a single step along the purchase journey rather than how they finalize their purchase decision.

Essentially, connected consumers have undergone a mindset shift in the past several years: rather than thinking about retail as online vs. in-store, they’re thinking of retail simply as retail, no matter how or where they make their purchase. This is why consumers are rewarding businesses that integrate the online and offline customer experience, like Target’s new dedicated, same-day delivery website, or home decor brand Magnolia Market’s AR app that lets consumers see how items would look in their real-world homes.

How to hack the gap: Bridge the online and offline consumer experience

Marketing and research firm SmartHQ reports that 50 percent of millennials prefer to shop in-store, as long as it’s an engaging, seamless experience.

Retailers can create that seamless experience by capitalizing on the powerful technology that customers already hold in their hands. Retailers don’t have to rely solely on mobile, however. Many larger retailers and mall operators are using the internet of things (IoT) infrastructure to include built-in kiosks that allow customers to order out-of-stock items, search for products and more.

Idealistic, yet discriminating

Social media has opened up a new world of transparency—both real and imagined—for consumers, which means that they’re holding brands to extremely high standards. That doesn’t apply only to product quality, but to service and social responsibility, too.

At the same time, however, the prevalence of sponsored content, paid-for reviews, and influencer marketing have spurred them to be increasingly suspicious of brands’ authenticity. As one study participant told us, “I want a brand that doesn’t just ‘talk the talk,’ but chooses to ‘walk the walk.'”

How to hack the gap: Showcase your authenticity 

Showcasing your authenticity isn’t always an easy or straightforward thing. After all, in order to do so, you have a very clear, specific idea of what your brand stands for. If you haven’t articulated this yet, it’s critical to take a step back and work on establishing your mission and vision internally.

If you’ve already done this work, then it’s time to take a close look at your marketing, from your social media posts to your experiential. Is your brand’s mission closely tied into all of your efforts? Are you clearly living out your brand’s values?

Gods, yet all too human

Today’s consumers truly do wield almost god-like power with their purchase decisions. They have access to an unprecedented amount of information, both from brands and other consumers, as well as a global selection of products and services. There’s nothing passive about your customers—instead, they’ve become active drivers.

Despite this power, however,  our research showed that connected consumers regularly feel overwhelmed and guilty, as well as worried that they’re not making the right purchase decision.

How to hack the gap: Respect consumers’ power, while alleviating their pain points

Easing customers’ anxieties is an important part of making their purchase process smooth, supported, and streamlined. “Try before you buy” models and live-chat assistance are just a couple of examples of ways to give customers the opportunities to explore before making a commitment, as well as the validation, they crave.

Investing in tools and options like these can go a long way toward earning the connected consumer’s loyalty because the quality of that purchase process is just as important to them as the quality of the actual product or service.

The connected consumer presents challenges, but also opportunities to innovate, for brands that are willing to adapt to their conflicting needs, resolve their tensions, and make the purchase journey as rewarding as the final destination. In doing so, you’ll become more than just a vendor: you’ll become a trusted guide and worthy companion, leading your customers happily home to your brand.


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