Are tablets the future?

It used to be taken for granted that charity communications meant print, but the digital revolution has blown the definition wide open. In this brave new world of interactive, personalised digital comms, charities need to adapt to survive.

Web | 8 minutes read | Michael Gough

Are tablets the future?
Are tablets the future?

The shift to digital

When Eric Schmidt talks, people listen – as the Executive Chairman of Google, he’s one of the most influential people in business. And last month he told the Magazine Publishers’ Association conference that the future of their industry was digital. When asked for his predictions for 5 years from now, Schmidt responded by saying the world will have “powerful, tablet–looking things – [devices] that look roughly like a tablet – as a substitute for traditional media.”

It’s true that tablets provide an in–hand experience akin to that of printed literature but with a richer user experience. Digital technology adds a layer of reader interactivity that has never been possible in print, despite the best efforts of those 1980s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. By gathering user data, publishers and brands can now create personalised, localised, timely and relevant communications for their audiences. It’s not surprising that many charities have followed suit, shifting their comms from traditional media to online.

Alongside this trend is a convergence between physical and digital comms to create added audience value. Consider the use of mobiles and tablets to reveal Augmented Reality experiences through print, such as magazines you can shop from with your phone, or postcards that play movie trailers when scanned. It’s not just a print phenomenon either – the video games industry has boosted merchandise sales by creating exclusive in–game features that can only be unlocked by purchasing collectable figures.

The rise of the tablet

The 2013 edition of the Internet Statistics Compendium claims that in the two years since the launch of the iPad, 4.3% of website visits are now coming from tablets. It also states that 24% of people over the age of 15 in the UK own a tablet and that number is set to climb dramatically in the coming years – John Lewis boasted that it sold an iPad every ten seconds in the run–up to Christmas. By 2017, half the UK population (and two thirds of internet users) will have access to tablets, according to eMarketer.


The rise of the tablet


Finally, there are big changes underway in how we access news. 82% of people in the UK now access their news online, with just 54% reading it in print. As you’d expect, this change has been accompanied by a collapse in print newspaper circulation in the last decade.

Who’s not online?

Put all of this together, and you’ve got what appears to be a compelling argument to shift charity comms online and in–hand.

But is this really the right thing to do for your audience? Are your supporters among this group of tablet wielding, digital content consuming UK residents?

Well, if your supporter base consists of people over 55, then they might not be.

Internet users and non–users by age group (years), 2012 Q

Internet users and non-users by age group


When it analysed the use of the government’s online services, the Cabinet Office’s Digital Landscape Research identified a group of people who are ‘actively disengaged’ and deliberately offline. Their negative perceptions of the internet stem from a belief that the internet is irrelevant and unsociable. Their fondness for traditional and face–to–face methods of communication means they actively avoid going online. Essentially, their viewpoint is that “I’ve survived this long without it, so I don’t see why I would ever need it in the future”.

Who are we talking about here? 88% of this group are aged 45 or older. In socio–economic grading terms, the majority are category E – that’s those out of work and pensioners. In other words, those at most risk of missing out if you switch to online comms are those at the lowest rungs of the economic scale, and retirees. Depending on the charity, that latter category could include some of your oldest and most loyal supporters.

Understanding the risk

If this sounds familiar from your own supporter interactions then online comms will need to be phased in carefully, but in some ways the bigger risk is over–reliance on traditional brand comms to avoid upsetting older supporters. If you’re looking to maintain and grow a stable supporter base, then you have to connect in methods and channels that suit the individual. It’s vital that charities adapt to how digital technology is being used by its different supporter groups. Fail to do so, and there’s a real possibility of a collapse in support and donation levels as your ageing population inevitably dies.

Even if your supporter base is young and digitally savvy, it doesn’t necessarily mean all your future comms should be tablet driven. We were interested to read that even the super connected 16 to 24 year old ‘digital natives’ still appreciate physical media. Out of 1,420 young adults surveyed by Voxburner, 62% said they preferred print books to ebooks. A key reason for this is because people feel an emotional connection to physical books. Since the best charity comms speak to the heart as well as the head, an exclusively online approach might be missing a trick even with younger audiences.

Finding the balance

The future may be broadly digital, but the transition is not a simple one, and neither is digital technology a straight swap for traditional media. The future may be more diverse than Eric Schmidt expects.

For charities working out how best to spend their comms budgets, that doesn’t offer much clarity. So let’s try another of Schmidt’s ideas for size. When he was CEO of Google, Schmidt developed and implemented a business concept called the 70:20:10 model. We think it’s a useful approach for charities wondering how to focus their comms expenditure.

The 70:20:10 model basically aims to drive best practice through continuous improvement in three categories: Brilliant basics, Competition matching, and Genuine innovation.

The theory is that 70% of the budget should be spent maximising the performance of current activity. 20% is allocated to keeping up with best practice. The final 10% is spent on small–scale experiments that help identify next year’s innovations.

It’s a simple yet powerful model for marketing communications, especially in a highly competitive sector where share of purse is vital for so many end beneficiaries.

In his pursuit of continual improvement at Google, Schmidt apparently goes so far as to divide his time between three different offices to ensure he sticks to his 70:20:10 principle. We don’t go to this extreme, but we do believe that this model allows our clients to make their comms efficient today and innovative for tomorrow.

Know your audience

So what should charities considering switching their comms from traditional to digital do?

As we’ve seen, a hasty switch–over to digital without careful consideration risks alienating your loyal older supporters. It’s imperative that you first segment your supporter base to understand who they are; where they are; what they want to hear from you; and how they want to be communicated with. Armed with this information, you can pinpoint the role of each piece of communication and the best channels to use when considering each supporter segment.

There is no doubt that the future will be predominantly digital, and that charities will have to adapt their marketing strategies to communicate effectively. But, digital or physical, at the crux of the very best brand communications is a simple principle: you have to know your audience like you would a friend, and talk to them in ways that capture their imagination and inspire action.

And that’s where we can help.

What can we do for you?

As a studio, we recognise how important it is for you to squeeze maximum value out of your comms budgets. It would be easy to jump in on unproven technologies and waste a lot of time and money chasing trends. That’s why we work with you to constantly evolve communication methods that meet the needs of your audience, through channels they trust, while satisfying your marketing objectives.

We can work with you across all three 70:20:10 categories, helping you to improve your existing comms and deliver brilliant basics that match your supporters’ needs. We’ll identify the best new ideas among other similar charities, and see how they would fit with your organisation. And we’ll bring our creative expertise to help you innovate and find exciting and engaging new ways to communicate with your supporters.

If you want to talk this through with us and find out more about what we can do for you, give us a call. Alternatively have a look at our recent work for the charities OMF and Christian Aid.


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