Consumers expect innovation. As a result, stagnant brands lose consumer interest when they don’t measure up to the demands of customer expectations. Today’s consumers expect brands to conform to their preferences and deliver frictionless experiences. Innovation helps companies drive efficiency gains and present new solutions to customers, while enhancing brand equity. When new experiments don’t succeed, I’ve seen companies tempted to question consumers’ true appetite for innovation. But my customer satisfaction research shows this diagnosis is misguided.
Innovation often delivers higher satisfaction rates among customers, who have more valuable experiences. But it’s not all positive potential. Falling short of customers’ expectations for innovation — or inadequate education on new products or features — can damage satisfaction and erode trust. For instance, I used to prefer Starbucks coffee. But difficulties ordering through their app pushed me away. Dunkin’s simple, customer-centric ordering experience pulled me in, earning my loyalty and, consequently, my coffee preference.
With high risks and higher rewards, successful innovation requires that brands not only push processes and technology forward, but also effectively communicate features to customers. Brands must be proactive and place customers first if they want to fully harness innovation’s power. If consumers aren’t aware of product developments, companies’ returns on investments risk falling short of expectations.
With high risks and higher rewards, successful innovation requires that brands not only push processes and technology forward, but also effectively communicate features to customers.
In my experience, many companies lose their way when looking to enhance their brands through innovation. But hope isn’t lost. I’ve pulled out four ideas from my research that can help polish your image and keep innovation efforts on track.
1. Innovation Should be Customer-Centric
Consumers migrate to brands with reputations for pushing forward. But simply adding new technology doesn’t earn an “innovative brand” badge. Innovations must revolve around customer expectations while delivering experiences and features that address their needs.
Ultimately, cultivating a forward-thinking brand identity comes down to recognizing customer behavior and responding to those trends. Consistently matching product development with customer preferences builds up an advanced, customer-first brand image.
2. Sales Aren’t Always the Answer
Over-promotion bogs down brands across industries. From 10% discounts to free shipping, offers flood my inbox daily. But these deals quickly become white noise, compromising companies’ ascension to innovator status. How can you align with customer expectations when the expectation isn’t deals and low prices?
Money savings may not be the most important factor for every audience. Companies that deploy one-size-fits-all strategies neglect considerations like time or family events, missing out on the chance to deliver value beyond day-to-day engagement. Marketing innovation requires new techniques, not defaulting to discounts every month. Von Maur is one retail chain I see that understands this concept, providing a unique service to customers through interest-free charge cards. This type of program turns heads and separates the innovators from brands lingering in the past.
3. Great Experiences Win the Day
While traditional marketing tactics like case studies may seem like an ideal way to assert innovation, these techniques can turn off customers. Consumers respond better to meaningful stories and experiences that supplement innovative offerings. This is why digitally native brands like Warby Parker are opening physical locations. In-person experiences differentiate their brand, creating a distinct value proposition that isn’t possible when department stores lump together all eyeglasses brands. Consumers want environments aligned with them, not a merchandise mix meant for the masses.
Through seasonal events and anniversary sales, retailers like Nordstrom and Dillard’s excel at creating experiences that customers expect and even anticipate. These strategically deployed events show the power of consumer-driven innovation. When retailers build experiences around customers’ wants, they don’t need to beat their chests as “innovative brands” — shoppers naturally see them as such.
4. Education Will Save You
Even the greatest new feature is neutralized if customers don’t know how to use it. To truly establish themselves as innovators and industry leaders, brands can’t take customer adoption for granted. Companies must make it clear that developments are crafted with customers in mind and designed to solve their specific problems. Consumers should be able to easily discover how to extract value at a pace that’s comfortable for them.
In my view, Acura has accomplished this in the realm of autonomous driving. Rather than overhauling cars with technology that customers aren’t ready for, they’ve slowly introduced autonomous features. This incremental strategy solves real problems without overwhelming customers, who gradually learn how advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) improve their driving experience. My research validates the importance of education, showing that innovation delivered to user communities that don’t know how to extract value is dead on arrival.
To benefit from premier brand status, companies must innovate with customer expectations in mind. Running full-steam ahead into futuristic technology without gauging customer desires can quickly derail your strategy, because innovation for innovation’s sake is worthless. When customers understand that companies made decisions to improve their experience, it increases consumer satisfaction and cements the company’s reputation as an innovative brand.
Michael Fisher is President of Fluent Dialogue. Fluent are experts in digital consumer engagement, enabling brands to acquire and retain new customers with high lifetime value. Leveraging a wide audience reach, Fluent drives intelligent research, acquisition, and growth strategies helping build strong customer connections.