Damian Ferrar: senior vice-president and executive creative director, Jack Morton Worldwide
Damian Ferrar: senior vice-president and executive creative director, Jack Morton Worldwide
A view from Damian Ferrar

How brands bridge the consumer expectation gap

Rising consumer expectations are a unique point of certainty and brands need to do more to meet this challenge, writes Jack Morton Worldwide's ECD.

We are all familiar with the first rule of marketing – understand what people need and value. 

Ironically, many brands are struggling with this.

The global brandshare study found 87% of people want meaningful interactions with brands, but only 17% of people think brands provide this. In other words, there’s an experience gap – we are failing to meet people’s needs and provide value.

Understanding what those needs are is becoming more critical since people are increasingly time-poor. People think they need choice, but most of us don’t get the time to make decisions. This means that people need brands to understand them, to inspire them, and make the decision-making process easier.

For brands to create memories, they have to deliver consistent, continuous and compelling experiences that people need and want.

Increasingly, the source of people’s inspiration is shifting from "things" to "experiences" – from decisions based on routine or instinct to memories and emotion. This is good news for brands because it’s memories that build brand loyalty that, in turn, unlock relationships with longevity.

So, for brands to create memories, they have to deliver consistent, continuous and compelling experiences that people need and want. The reality today is that there is a gap between what people need and want and what brands provide; the experience gap.

One of the challenges we face in bridging this gap is rapidly evolving expectations. People’s expectations of brands are higher than ever before. So, brands need to provide better choices, richer experiences and one-on-one attention – demonstrating unfaltering customer-centric behaviour.

A couple of years ago, Uber commissioned a study. In the first year, it asked its customers in London how long they would be prepared to wait for a taxi. The answer came back as seven minutes. With the same question the following year, the answer was five minutes. The patience of Londoners had decreased by 30% in the space of 12 months.

Evolving expectations are due to the fact that businesses like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have transformed the definition of service and connectivity. Data and technology are optimising every experience.

It’s about brands leveraging data and technology to understand people’s needs and the context of their lives to provide unexpected value.

The challenge here is that as businesses undertake a digital transformation we think that all our problems will be solved. But digital is not a thing. In fact, the only people who talk about digital, mobile and retail are brands and agencies. People just do the things they do. In a shop, online, on their mobile, in their home – moving freely and unconsciously between all interfaces with a brand.

So, digital is not a thing, but the future will be fueled by technology. However, it’s not about using a different or more advanced technology. It’s about a different and better relationship with technology. It’s about brands leveraging data and technology to understand people’s needs and the context of their lives to provide unexpected value. It’s about brands being conscious business assets.

The brands that will be the most effective conscious business assets will be those that embed UX in the fabric of their business. And as we welcome the age of zero UI – where responding to gesture and emotion develops an invisible interface which runs in the background of people’s lives – it’ll be those brands that embrace this invisible interface which will shape expectations.

This is important because if we simply meet expectations, we will become irrelevant. If we shape expectations, however, we become game-changers, and transform markets, our businesses and the world around us.

We can see the challenge for brands that lack consciousness of people’s needs played out on the stock market. Professor Richard Foster of Yale University predicts that by 2020 more than three-quarters of the S&P500 will be made up of companies we haven’t heard of yet. This churn will be caused by businesses focusing on what has made them successful rather than what will make them successful. By concentrating on increasing efficiencies and profitability they are blinkered to what their existing, or new, competitors are doing.

Another challenge in bridging the experience gap is that in an increasingly complex world, where the pace of change is accelerating, experiences with brands are becoming more fragmented. Critical micro-moments are informing people’s judgments of a brand as a whole. People make minute, unconscious calculations to decide if engaging is worthwhile.

So, brands must understand people and anticipate what they need almost before they can articulate it themselves. Balancing being intuitive with being empathetic, brands will be brought to life by the relevant experiences that they curate.

And, as we shift from brand loyalty to interface loyalty – it will be the experience people have with every interface, every touchpoint with a brand that will count to fuel retention and lower the cost of acquisition. This means brands need to reimagine the UX based on the real-time context of people’s lives and curate brand-lead, ownable experiences on a hyper-personal level, avoiding generic customer experience formulas. After all, it’s no longer what a brand looks like but how it makes people feel that’s important.

But for today, brands must take the first step and transform themselves into conscious business assets, in-tune with people’s needs – or risk becoming irrelevant.

Damian Ferrar is senior vice-president and executive creative director at Jack Morton Worldwide.

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