There’s a big difference between what consumers expect and what they see brands delivering.
When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of marketers: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.
If being in that second group appeals to you, some predictions about that future can be helpful. The thing is predictions relying only on measure of the current reality is what a lot of would-be prognosticators spout this time of year. We don’t! It discounts the importance that mostly-emotional very-predictive consumer expectations play in fashioning a brand’s future. I make that statement with an extraordinarily high degree of confidence for a couple of reasons.
First, behavioral expectation measures correlate very, very highly with consumers’ behavior in the marketplace (upwards of 0.80 in most categories). And second, consumers already come to every category with very high expectations. And those expectations? They only increase. Every year! Faster than brands can keep up.
This year, the average, cross-category expectations increased by 28%. Brands kept by about 7%. Woe unto you if you’re in a tech category. Expectations there were up 46%! But wherever you compete, there’s a big difference between what consumers expect and what they see brands delivering.
If you want to really know what’s coming down the road for your brand next year, you absolutely have to factor in consumer expectations now. Because (and I say this with an equally high degree of confidence) brands best able to meet those expectations are usually #1 or #2 in their categories. They have more-loyal customers. And They post higher profits. (Our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index will be posted on January 22nd for the 2024 winners. Check it out!) So those expectations are really important to factor in. Sooner rather than later. Just saying.
But here’s the thing. You can’t just ask. You can’t ask consumers, “What do you expect?” because expectations are mostly based on feelings. And articulating how they feel about a category or brand is often difficult if not impossible for consumers. Oh, and you can’t just ask, “To whom are you most loyal?” And don’t get me started on using 10-point NPS scales! The 21st century marketplace and loyalty works differently. So, we don’t do any of that.
Instead, we measure expectations via a combination of psychological inquiry and higher-order statistical analyses to get an unconstrained-by-reality measure of what consumers really do expect. To know how high “up” really is for them and how brands measure up to those expectations. Tah-dah!
So OK, now what? Well, we take a hard look at the gap between those expectations (what consumers truly desire) and what brands are seen to deliver (what brands are seen to deliver).
That gap tells us what’s missing. What brands are missing in meeting real expectations. Then we drill down to identify what will help fill that ever-growing chasm. The process identifies values that point us to what will be coming down the road and what will help fill the gap. And, thus, allow the strategy folks to strategize and the creative folks to create programs and tactics and experiences around those values that will help the brand “fill the gap” better than the competition.
So, we looked at a year’s worth metrics. About 200,000 consumer assessments in 140 categories for about 1,500 brands and did a cross-category gap analysis to ID what’s coming down the road. Then we drilled-down to uncover values that will most-expeditiously fill them.
While there are predictions of coming-down-the-road values, these insights aren’t a one-size-fits-all road map for all brands. Keep in mind, brands are different. They’re supposed to be. That’s the nature of brands. So, some will be more important than others depending on your category and how well your brand is seen to meet your consumers’ expectations for what drives your category. We leave it to the creative folks to translate them into consumer advertising and user experiences.
Anyway, here are a few our research identified that warrant your attention:
- Increased expectations for alignment with social causes will only succeed if brands authentically champion causes that reinforce their own brand values.
- Community-centric branding will increase in import as localization and hyper-targeting (geo and contextual) become critical for delivering timely and relevant brand messaging to meet increased expectations.
- Expectations for immersive and memorable experiences are on the rise (again) and will require meaningful integration of AR/VR, video, IoT, and wearable tech into brand marketing evolution and interaction-impact with consumers.
- As ethnic groups grow in size and buying-power, so will their expectations requiring brands and retailers to integrate multi-cultural and culture-specific brand experiences into all forms of outreach.
- The growth of experience-expectations will shift consumer preference to seamless, hassle-free encounters and become more-critical than basic primacy-of-product.
- In the face of increased expectations related to integrated shopping experiences, a significant re-think of how social media platforms and how advertising is planned, configured, and delivered will be required.
- The ability for brands to accurately measure real, unarticulated, and constantly-expanding emotional consumer expectations will be necessary to provide significant brand-advantages to engage, delight, and profit.
- And, of course, AI is now a given, not so much a trend as a marketing mandate. But with anticipated AI advancements (and concomitant increased expectations about what it can do) brands will need to focus on its use in hyper-personalization, tailoring everything to consumers’ individual preferences.
These how-to-fill-the-gaps suggestions provide brands a preview of opportunities to better understand and better embrace new methods of brand and consumer outreach, engagement, and experience, how to build new business models, how to adopt new technologies, and how to create new and profitable brand opportunities. All while better meeting consumer expectations.
Do that, and you’ll end up in the group of marketers who actually make it happen.
We wish success to you all, the best of holiday seasons, and the happiest of New Years.