Despite the fact that I have spent most of my working life in a variety of technology related roles, I am by no means a “digital native”. Many of the behaviors that I see in the (much) younger people I work with did not come naturally to me – and some of them still seem odd. However, even ancient digital immigrants like me can, it seems, learn new tricks and I’ve noticed over the past few years, as mobile devices and network bandwidth have finally delivered on a decade-long promise, that I’ve adopted some purely digital behaviors. In particular, I find myself reaching for my smartphone to get answers to a lot of questions, from trivial to important, often many times a day. Mostly I get what I need immediately. Occasionally I have to dig a little deeper, but it’s rare that I don’t find what I need. Immediately. Easily. Accurately. Without any prior planning.

Google calls these short, unplanned interactions between an individual and information “micro-moments” and asserts (with considerable analytic support) that they are a game changer.

It seems to me that this kind of “on demand” information access (beyond the convenience it provides) really does have some interesting and profound implications for the evolution of the relationship between businesses and the customer’s they serve.

First, the interaction is brief – I only want what I want, right now and then I’m gone. I don’t want to have to watch a moronic ad video about something unrelated to my current interest – actually, I don’t even want to watch an interesting video that’s directly related to my current interest. I don’t have time. Immediate gratification is the name of the game and if you can’t satisfy my interest, I’ll not only not come back to you next time I want something similar, I’ll probably remember you as unhelpful and annoying and steer others away from you when asked for recommendations.

Second, I need an answer in context – and I’m probably not going to be telling you much if anything about what that context is. I’m generally going to get multiple possible sources for an answer, and I’ll pick the one that best matches the context I need. So forget using the pattern of my questions to guess what I might want next time I show up – or even why I asked the question now. It’s as likely that the driver was someone else asking me a question I couldn’t answer, rather than my own interests. Maybe eventually you or your analytics AI will see relevant patterns, but not from event to event – they’re driven by random(ish) needs.

Third, the body of knowledge from which I get good answers will likely become a preferred destination for future interactions. It’s always a good idea to be skeptical about online information sources and even though most “factual” answers are clearly correct and easily verifiable, good curation and accessible provenance can be important.

If you’ve followed the common wisdom of digital transformation for the past few years, you’re probably not all that well set up to respond to this rapidly evolving set of behaviors. In my experience, most online experiences are annoying, intrusive and inefficient – because they are driven by what the business wants to tell me (or encourage me to do), not what I want to hear (or do). That’s not what makes micro-moments work and I find myself increasingly abandoning online sites that don’t respond immediately and clearly with the answers I want. Over the past few months, I have been compiling a list of the places online I used to go (via click-through from search results usually) that I now avoid because I know they’re not going to give me the experience I want. That’s wasted SEO dollars and loss of advertising (or at least eyeballs) for them. I’ve also noticed that the most useful sites tend to give me the answer (or a useful hint) directly in the search result – so I never even need to click through. Immediate gratification! And you may never know you were the one that solved my problem…

For an excellent (if obviously biased) introduction to all this, take a look at the following URL: https://think.storage.googleapis.com/docs/micromoments-guide-to-winning-shift-to-mobile-download.pdf

I think we’re going to see a lot more of these challenges as consumer digital behavior shifts from persistent browsing sessions (which were and are easier on the desktop) to micro-moments on mobile devices. I can see behaviors evolving to include purchases, both on impulse ( for example, triggered by a scanned QR code) and triggered by alerts from monitoring services (convenient and efficient for a wide range of regular purchases). How this kind of behavior affects the economics of online presence remains to be seen. For sure, what we have today isn’t going to work well. And what might work well, isn’t clear yet. If you want to stay relevant to you customers, you’d better start paying attention to the moment, especially the micro-moment.

John Parkinson
Affiliate Partner
Waterstone Management Group

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