MARKETING FOCUS: Out of time, out of mind - Time is becoming the essence in the business of selling. James Curtis looks at how marketing strategists are aiming to catch the consumer on the run

Marketers are running out of time. Recent studies into consumer behaviour are showing that time is now one of the most valuable and elusive commodities.

Marketers are running out of time. Recent studies into consumer

behaviour are showing that time is now one of the most valuable and

elusive commodities.

The obvious danger for marketers is that it becomes increasingly

difficult to find, and be noticed by, a population with not enough hours

in the day.

The Henley Centre, in its recent ’Media Futures’ report, says: ’The

importance of time as a marketing message cannot be underestimated. The

challenge is to match time-based products and services with the

appropriate consumer moods. Value for time is the overriding


Never before has the expression ’time is money’ been more true.

Marketers have a golden opportunity to make time a key component of

their offering.

Time has such a high value that 33% of British consumers say they would

spend more to save time, and demand for out-of-hours services is at a

record high.

As a new report by the Future Foundation reveals, we are moving

inexorably toward a 24-hour society, with 80% of people saying they

think companies should provide customer care over the telephone out of

hours, and 35% wanting, literally, to shop around the clock.

The danger is that marketers fail to realise that less time also means

consumers are harder to hit with commercial messages. So far, their main

tactic - more commercials - has only made matters worse. More and more

ads does not mean they are more likely to work. People are suffering

from information overload and are increasingly ’shutting off’ when they

can’t take any more.

The average person will see 250 TV ads, 350 poster sites and 400 press

ads in a week. Around one in every three people, according to research

by Western Media, is an ’ad avoider’, actively ignoring advertising.

This has created a paradox with which the marketing community is

struggling to contend. People are being bombarded by more commercial

information but they have less time in which to process it. Consumers

are taking control, and exercising their right to choose, but they are

finding that the level of choice is unmanageable. They are under siege.

People are even talking about putting ads on condoms.

As Professor James Twitchell of the University of Florida says in his

book, Ad Cults, we have reached a point where ’almost every object

carries advertising, almost every human environment is suffused with

advertising and almost every moment of time is calibrated by


Time bomb

So how are marketers supposed to get through to this frazzled, time-poor

and information overloaded consumer? It is a question taxing the brains

of industry thinkers.

Sian Davies, a director at the Henley Centre, says: ’Many advertisers

have not responded to the implications of this. Business needs to see

things from the consumer’s perspective and start from scratch.’

Davies is among those calling for a fundamental reappraisal of how

advertisers approach prospects and customers. Relying on established

methods of segmenting people into boxes and a rigid creative strategy

won’t work. Instead, she says they have to take account of the

multi-layered complexity of peoples’ lives and schedules. The same

person could go through several different ’segments’ in a single day as

their mood and stress levels change. The man rushing off to work in the

morning is a very different animal to the one slumped in front of the

telly in the evening.

Getting in the mood

Davies calls this new approach ’occasion-based segmentation’, which is

sensitive to moods and movements during the day. She says clients need

to tie this understanding to their analysis and planning so that their

goods or service can take in a variety of moods.

Much of this is a media planning task. Often, media are the last thing

to be planned, but with the right route to the consumer being so

elusive, media experts say the reverse should be true.

Graham Bednash, managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, told an

audience at the recent Marketing Forum that : ’Finding an effective way

of connecting consumers in this sea of information, and working out

which of hundreds of media permutations available to you is the best, is

now one of the most important issues in marketing. In the age of

information overload the medium is more important than the message.’

Bednash is convinced that consumers - however busy they are - will still

respond well to a message that uses a medium that is right for them at

the right time.

He points to the Vaseline deodorant hang-strap on the London Underground

as a good example. ’Consumers will respond well to clever ideas that

attempt to catch them at the right time. They’re not so much consumers

as editors, sifting through what they do and don’t want to use.’

This is not to say that ambient media - that rapidly expanding industry

that sees every available surface as a potential ad - is the be all and

end all. It is just that advertisers should work out exactly which media

are going to be most effective before setting out on the creative.

Andrew Marsden, marketing director of Britvic, is convinced of this

strategy and says clients should develop a much keener understanding of

media and demand better research than is currently provided by standard

tools like Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), TGI and the

National Readership Survey.

’We’re being taken for a ride. Consumers are almost impossible to

measure. It’s time marketers stopped their agency deciding which media

to use and started to plan media before creative. We need a consumer-

first approach’, he told the Marketing Forum.

First Direct, which, with BT, backed the Future Foundation’s 24-hour

society study, was one of the first companies to recognise the value of

saving time and has prospered ever since. Mike Phillipson, brand

communications manager for First Direct, knows his media choice and

product offer has to take account of his customers’ lack of time.

’We know our customers are very light TV viewers; 66% of them watch less

than one hour of ITV per day. You have to communicate on their terms and

be very smart with your marketing communications.’

Phillipson says First Direct adopts a ’velcro’ approach to its


’We put hooks out everywhere, so that wherever you are you have some

sort of contact with the brand. We look at how different segments react

to different media so that we can ensure we have the right media for the

right person. We want an objective, intelligent dialogue with the


The Future Foundation’s concept of a 24-hour society is a more dramatic,

but ultimately realistic, solution to the problem.

Leon Kreitzman, senior fellow at the Future Foundation, says: ’It’s no

good labelling people as time rich and time poor. The only way to

resolve the issue is to change the nature of the organised day. It

requires a radical solution; we need to colonise the night.’

Multiple options

An inevitable result of the lack of spare time is that consumers are

demanding that products and services are available through more channels

and outside of the normal ’working day’. This has already happened to an

extent and there are now multiple options to buy or trade, whether it’s

by mail, phone, Internet, or soon, interactive television.

But this in turn is leading to demands for even more flexibility and

could lead to one of the biggest business revolutions since First Direct

and Direct Line blazed the trail into telephone banking and


Howard Sandom, head of PR for BT’s business customers, says: ’This is

going to be the next big shift in the way businesses think and it will

be created by the same tension between consumer demand and business

apathy that spawned telephone business. People want this and companies

can’t stand still for long.’

Sandom points to the number of retailers not facing up to 24-hour demand

as evidence of this intransigence. The survey reveals that while 72% of

businesses acknowledge that 24-hour service is inevitable, only 70% of

retailers have plans to alter their hours.

If business does bend to this latest consumer demand it will be the

latest in a long line of victories for consumer power.

They have the whip hand now and, with precious little time on their

hands to mess about looking for what they want, they expect business to

come up with the goods in the right place at the right time.

The challenge is for marketers to give them this while not making their

lives any more stressful in the process. This requires careful and

clever media planning and a fundamental reappraisal of the importance of

time as a valued commodity.

Information rich

- The average British commuter encounters 80 to 100 commercial messages

between getting up and reaching their desk. Each day we are exposed to

1300 commercial messages.

- In 1987 there were 500 TV ads per day; in 1997 11,000 and in 2007

there will be 33,000.

- The Sunday Times contains more information than a person in the 17th

century would come across in a lifetime.

- The amount of information available through computing and

telecommunications doubles every year.

- More information has been produced in the past 30 years than in the

previous 5000.

- In 1950 Sainsbury’s stocked 550 product lines per store. Today there

are more than 20,000 to choose from.

Source: The Henley Centre/Michaelides & Bednash

Time poor

- The British working week is the longest in Europe at an average of 43

hours, compared with 40.3 for the rest of Europe.

- In the UK, 33% of full-time employed men do not take their full

holiday entitlement.

- This decade will see 30% more women in management/professional jobs

and a 10% fall in the number of women in secretarial and manual


- Unpaid household labour would be worth pounds 740bn a year if it were


- 33% of British people would spend money to save time.

- In 1987 pounds 524m was spent on cooks, cleaners, child minders and

gardeners. In 1997 that figure was pounds 3bn.

Sources: Warwick Institute for Employment Research; The Henley Centre;

Office for National Statistics.


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