09/28/2015 07:12 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

Why Bad Social Behavior Is Good For Marketers

By Peter Cloutier, CMO, Catapult

Admit it: We adults are just as guilty as teenagers when it comes to the inappropriate use of our digital devices in public. Ask yourself: Have I ever unwittingly bumped into another pedestrian because I was more preoccupied with texting than walking? Do I pay more attention to my smartphone than to the person seated across from me at a restaurant?

I am not making a purely social commentary or decrying America's collective etiquette. Rather, I am suggesting that while our culture's obsession with its gadgets may have given rise to some awkward social behaviors, it has also opened the door for marketers to engage with consumers--unapologetically--in a much wider range of everyday circumstances than many of us would have imagined even a few years ago. Just as technology has reshaped our relationships with people--sharing texts or Facebook posts with dinner companions is an instinctive way for people to connect with each other--it has also created opportunities for companies to build more ongoing, intimate relationships with their customers.

Digital technology is clearly leading the way. Consumers are growing increasingly comfortable with digital tools and are often receptive to marketing when they immerse themselves in their devices. True, they don't always grab their iPhones or connect online for the explicit purpose of buying something, but once they do, ample data suggests that they can quickly shift into shopping mode and will respond to relevant messages or offers that provide a clear benefit. More and more, consumers are telling us that marketing wrapped in a compelling digital experience can itself become an experience worth repeating.

Those experiences are becoming not only more sophisticated, but also more relevant. If it's the cool factor they seek, Facebook users can now upload 360-degree videos to the news feed on its mobile site (brands like GoPro and Star Wars are already messaging with the technology), or go on YouTube's desktop version and do the same thing. But it's not just marketing for the sake of branded entertainment. Brands are also using advanced data-gathering techniques to reach consumers in highly targeted ways. That HD monitor you purchased on Amazon or those shoes you searched for just once on Google seem to "follow" you everywhere, from your e-mail home page to Facebook to all the online media you browse.

When these two forms of marketing come together harmoniously, the result can be very powerful. That is essentially the principle of conversion marketing.

Unlike traditional branding based on pure storytelling, conversion marketing is all about telling a story that enables the eventual purchase. It connects storytelling to transactions. It's a shift from an old model built on messaging intended to shape attitudes to a model that focuses on messaging meant to trigger actions.

The practice of conversion marketing is rapidly gaining traction. According to a recent ad industry survey, 88% of all companies today are examining every consumer touch point, including broadcast and social media, to measure its contribution to sales. However, not enough firms say they are successfully conducting campaigns based on conversion-minded principles. I'll leave the discussion of what's holding them back for another format. For now, here are three main reasons why the discipline is here to stay:

1) Consumer behavior is on its side. Thanks to tools like mobile apps, today's consumers can become shoppers at a moment's notice. With the right brand message and incentive delivered by the marketer, their desire for immediate gratification can fuel a transaction immediately.

2) The tools are getting better. Think about how far we've come from the days of pop-up ads: Much of today's online advertising has cinematic quality. Mobile marketing is finally coming into its own. Facebook is developing increasingly sophisticated targeting capabilities, while Twitter and newer social media sites like WhatsApp represents tremendous untapped marketing potential.

3) The Internet of Things will move us forward. We live in a smart-everything world where digital media can "talk" to each other, which creates exponential opportunities to convert consumers into shoppers. Those data-driven offers that follow us everywhere online are only effective when packaged in good creative. A good-looking display ad with a wink-and-a-nod headline ("You might be interested in . . .") makes it more likely for us to respond and invite the marketer in.

Despite trends, many marketers remain torn about which strategies, tools and tactics to adopt. At times it may seem like there are too many choices. Plus, there's always that lingering question about ROI. On the other hand, marketers these days have plenty of reason to cheer. Consumers are listening to them, their tools are sharper and the world around them is changing for the better.

I'd write more, but Starbucks just sent me a reminder notice to top off my mobile app, so I can go buy another cup of coffee. Gotta go.