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  • How to best understand digital consumer behaviour

    December 2, 2019

    How to best understand digital consumer behaviour: for some reason, here in 2017, we’re still faced with the same problem that our marketing leaders faced in 2007 – the digital world is a veritable minefield for advertisers, consumers and publishers alike.

    And, it seems, we’re not alone – recent statements from Unilever, the world’s biggest advertiser by spend, related that as much as 25 percent of its digital ad spend is completely ineffective. Such statements may have any CMO or number-cruncher in accounts concerned about where the money is going. Unilever isn’t alone in this, either. Most Fortune 500 companies are questioning who actually sees their ads and are also questioning current methods of ROI measurement.

    Against that backdrop, you could be forgiven for thinking that digital, the oft-promised harbinger of elusive direct ROI, is just as scattergun as its predecessors. Through that fog though, reassuringly, it’s not all doom and gloom.

    Indeed, far from it for those willing to play the long game in using consumer data intelligently to increase effectiveness and ROI. And with everything, it’s often those willing to be nimble who catch the early worm too.


    As an example, let’s look at Dollar Shave Club, one of Unilever’s recent acquisitions. As a plucky start-up, they famously created one of the most successful launch content pieces of all time, with the CEO starring in a hilarious, direct and, most importantly, targeted way, utilising video content and banner re-targeting (where an ad is shown to a visitor of a website to reconsider finalising their purchase).

    How did Dollar Shave Club go from start-up, then, to a $1 billion exit from the world’s biggest FMCG company? Simply, they understood their consumers and where they were online and made such a sticky customer base that word-of-mouth took it from there. They did their homework and were single-minded in how they were going to connect to a new generation of consumers online.

    In finding their niche target, they analysed the old-fashioned who, what, when, why and how, and found an audience that would carry them forward from obscurity to the mainstream of the online space.

    David Ogilvy wrote in Confessions of an Advertising Man: “Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore the signs of the enemy.” That, written around the same time a computer took up an entire wall and could only perform calculations, is as true today as in the 1960s when the book was penned.

    What then would Ogilvy make of the scattergun ‘put it up on Facebook and boost the post’ strategy that today’s advertisers do without a thought about who, how, what, when and why?

    We don’t know what, but the principles, in fact, are the same.


    The step to taking back control of your effectiveness (or starting from the right spot) is to understand your consumer better than they do.

    This might seem a difficult task but, with the amount tools around, you can either formulate a killer brief for your agency or implement your own strategy in-house.


    Assuming you’ve embarked on this path with a digital strategy in mind and objectives set, be reassured that, just like in life, your audience has a footprint and it’s usually not too hard to find. Starting to understand them in the right places is the first step to drive the true insights that can unlock the digital potential.

    Unlock those footprints by:


    From websites to social media and everything in-between, analyse the data you have and, if you don’t understand it, a good point to start with an agency is an audit of your existing properties. Ask questions such as: Where are the key interactions taking place? Where are we losing people? How are we connecting to our consumer? Are we understanding the consumer? Are their habits clear? If you can answer those questions, great, we’re on the way and you probably have a good handle on what your consumer wants. But, likely, those questions and your existing properties are creating even more of a headache… which is why:

    Define who you want to talk with. The best brands online that understand their audience and connect with them, talk with their audience, not to them. That’s a big leap to make and the first critical one in any digital consumer understanding. Then define them. Who is our target audience and what do we want to talk with them about? Once we know that, don’t be afraid to get granular by creating personas and using those to either test that you’re talking to the right people, or adjusting them as your journey continues.

    Cast a research net. Utilise what you can afford to get the insights – start with free tools, such as Google Consumer Barometer, Google Trends and YouTube Trends, and start to understand the ‘what’ in the equation of your customer. Conduct social listening (utilising keywords, key accounts and monitoring competitors) about what the audience is saying about the brand and others in your space, to better understand what, if anything, is a pain point. Look for avenues you can win easily and set aside the big challenges to chip away at. For example, is a competitor not doing content well, but has a share of voice exceeding your own?


    Have a web property or other property that allows tracking (like an app)? Place tracking pixels on them to see where your consumers footprints are going and utilise those to put content back in their feeds when you have it. Understand where they are going and how they’re getting there.

    Gather the research. The last step, after doing all of the above, is relevant if you’re still at a loss with what you have. Maybe you don’t have a clear picture of what the consumer and audience is looking for. Maybe you don’t have a consumer because it’s a new product. Then, simply, learn what the consumer does. Commission some simple research (there are tools such as Pollfish that can do it at a fraction of the traditional market research rates) to better understand their habits by asking them. Ask where they look for content. When they look for it. What they’re looking for.


    Armed with that information, it’s easier to then start looking at consumer behaviour more specifically and try and help your consumer in the moment of need, truth or simply desires.

    And while you may think it’s extraordinary to dig into so much detail about your consumer, I’ve seen it work. Unlocking some desktop research, mixing it with a small bit of research that cost almost nothing to undertake and matching that with listening enabled us at Digital Ape to achieve a 56 percent growth in volumes month-on-month for a F&B brand in KSA. All by just understanding the what and how of the consumer.

    Once you have the data, be brave. Take the next and be rewarded.


    Finally, there are two ways to then reach the audience with a campaign:

    Hyper-targeted campaign via profiling and campaign construction – this is where you’re able to deep-dive into your audience profiling and really hit the fans of the products or services your selling. The example in the previous section of the more than 50 percent growth came from this – we looked word of mouth squarely in the face and made it move for us.

    A wider campaign that encourages engagement – the critical part of measuring how successful a campaign was is often not just a ‘tale of the till’. It’s also about how many people remember you. This is our dark horse of awareness. However, in digital, we can make it work for us by adding in engagement

    Getting people involved who love what we’re talking with them about. They love our content so much they become advocates, driving ultimately more effectiveness.

    Both these strategies can provide good, quick and effective wins when the content of your advertising is being driven by an innate understanding of your consumer.

    If you take one thing away from this piece, it’s the classic word ‘insights’. You can’t win a war without knowing your enemy. You can’t win a consumer unless you understand them and in no world is this truer than digital.

    When you unlock this, you unlock untold growth to your digital plans, but, more importantly, you’ll deliver quantifiable ROI on your efforts and, in turn, set your agenda for innovation moving forward.

    The article appeared in the October 2017 issue of Gulf Marketing Review.

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