the rhythm of customer expectations

Passikoff: The Rhythm of Customer Expectations

Because brands that better meet customer expectations always see better consumer behavior. And sales and profits.

When I was a kid, I loved rock and roll. Buddy Holly, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Paul Anka. Little Richard, Otis Redding, Bobby Darin. All of them. The Four Seasons, the Temptations, oh, oh, Diana Ross and the Supremes. The Beatles, of cosurse. I rocked around the clock with Bill Haley and his Comets. Although mostly after 10 PM, listening on a transistor radio in my bedroom when I probably should have been going to sleep.

That transistor radio exceeded my expectations. Portable with an earpiece. OK, only for one ear, but still. The sound quality wasn’t what you expected from a record on a stereo, but it met customer expectations when it came to listening to late-night rock n’ roll. More importantly, it let me feel like I was part of “the scene,” twisting with Fats Domino and seeing the pyramids along the Nile with Jo Stafford. Until the 70’s.

I still felt part of the scene. I just expected to feel, well, more. I expected to take my music with me. I expected to listen to anything and everything everywhere. And, in 1979, my expectations were met. With the Sony Walkman. Light-weight with comfortable headphones. For both ears. It wasn’t so much a breakthrough in technology so much as it was a breakthrough in expectations.

So as far as expectations for portable audio devices went, the Walkman was an upgrade. But by the 1990’s consumers upgraded their expectations. They expected to transfer music anywhere. They expected to use Wi-Fi to connect music to their computers. The gap between what we wanted and what was there was getting bigger. Oh sure, there were MP3 players, but they were big and clunky. Or small and useless. So as to meeting expectations, not so much.

The iPod was developed in less than one year and unveiled on October 23, 2001. Steve Jobs announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5 GB hard drive that put “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Whoa.

Enter the iPod. It beat the digits out of other options because it better met customer expectations users had for, well, everything. Interface, audio, connectivity, accessories, portability. And design. It looked cool. But even that didn’t stop their mostly-emotional expectations from escalating. Eventually some of those new expectations were met. But it took a smartphone to do it. 

If you’ve read this far, I don’t suppose you need much more explication about how smartphones met consumers’ then-expectations. For the moment at least. Screen size and active-pixel image sensor cameras notwithstanding. For a variety of reasons, those never ever meet consumer expectations. And, again, new expectations grew out of old innovation.

And continue to grow. In all categories, for all brands. No, not an anomaly. It’s on-going. YOY. Three times faster than brands keep up. Each year a little faster than the last. So, the gap between what customers truly expect and what they see brands delivering, gets a little wider. Each year. Not, a great thing for marketers, to be sure. But it is an opportunity. Because brands that better meet customer expectations always see better consumer behavior. And sales and profits. 

If you have any doubts about that, here’s some really important topline findings from our just-released, 20thannual, top 50 Most Innovative Brands survey

  • Consumers’ most-innovative brands fell into 9 sectors: Consumer Goods, D2C, Food and Beverage, Healthcare, Media and Entertainment, Social Networking, Software, Technology, and Transportation. 
  • 38% of the brands are new to the top-50 and included Everlane, Warby Parker and Airbnb.
  • Tech brands accounted for 12% and included OpenAI (OK, no surprise there!), and other giants of tech innovation. 
  • Software, Tech’s cousin, accounted for 14% of this year’s brands with consumers returning Duolingo and adding Airbnb (Vous souhaitez louer un appartement à Paris?).
  • A new sector – Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) – had to be added this year, confirmation that category has been picking up steam. 

If you’re interested in seeing the complete top 50 list, with brands ranked for their innovativeness (according to consumers) by sector, you can find that here. It’s a big deal!

Actually, it’s a really BIG deal because this is the only innovative brands list that’s based entirely on what consumers think. Not a bunch of tech reporters and editors making up a list. That’s a different kind of list because, while there are an incredible number of brands out there trying to innovate, consumers are the ultimate jury in this survey. And in the marketplace.

See, when it comes to innovation, consumers don’t care about earnings calls, or the number of patents held, or how big a company is. What matters is what they really expect. That’s the consumer’s innovation yardstick and the gateway to meaningfully profitable brand innovation. As I’ve pointed out before, you have to know what those expectations are. Hint: they’re mostly-emotional and complex and granular, and not located on a one-to-ten scale!

Real brand-innovation emotions cross B2C, B2B, and, this year, D2C, lines more and more and more often. Each new brand consumers add to our annual list stands for something that advances the category in which they compete. And this year’s list makes it clear customer expectations about brand innovation continue to change. A lot. 

But happily, innovation is one thing brands can use to shore up expectation-shortfalls. It’s the really innovative brands that remember it’s not just about just having ideas. It’s about making those ideas happen!

I promise you, not only is that what consumers expect, but they’ll also think your brand rocks!

Photo by Florian Schmetz on Unsplash. Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash.

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