The Super-Service economy is here and brands need to adjust their thinking to the realities of consumer expectations.
1. Don’t rely on relationship
In a recent study published in the magazine “Marketing Week,” consumers thought the whole idea of having a conversation with a brand was silly. That caught my eye because so many of us in the marketing world talk about having discussions, conversations, dialogue and relationships with consumers. Are we kidding ourselves?
According to a recent Deloitte survey of 4,047 respondents in 28 product categories and more than 350 brands, brand loyalty is declining. That’s the 3rd straight year that brand loyalty has gone down. On the surface that would seem to tell us that the relationship approach to marketing isn’t working very well.
2. Conditional Love or none at all
The shift in power from brands to consumers has meant brands have had to come up with a new way to woo buyers. In this 1:1 vs. one to many age, it seemed only logical that the approach should be to make consumers our friends. The thinking went that we could use email, social media, and the rest of the digital toolbox, to simulate a personal, real time relationship. In the end our brand would become a trusted friend and knowledge source, and loyalty would lead to easier and cheaper sales.
Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Consumers have really taken their empowerment to heart and like a pretty girl surrounded by admirers, are enjoying all the attention. Consequently, their minimum expectations of brand performance have only risen as they have experienced brands with the Super-Service approach.
Now with many brands delivering the valuable content, great user experiences and terrific customer service that characterize Super-Service, consumer loyalty has surprisingly become even more flighty and conditional.
3. The table stakes just got higher
The Super-Service model, which until recently set only a few brands apart, is now quickly becoming table-stakes.
So how do brands differentiate themselves in a Super-Service world? How do they win when everyone is delivering a consistent, top-notch experience?
That depends on what kind of brand you have. For many the answer is product innovation, for others creative differentiation, even data can be a route to differentiation and loyalty.
For example, Hyundai already had great prices and a terrific consumer experience in every part of the customer cycle, but it wasn’t enough. So they focused on developing a product that would set them apart, in their case unexpectedly in the higher end segment. This not only delighted customers, but also redefined the brand.
Amazon built its business on low prices and service, but as its model and competition has matured, it has turned to building loyalty based on data ownership and insights, from Amazon Prime to product recommendations. Banks and financial companies have also started to see data as a route to loyalty, because customers are averse to leaving organizations that hold data that they need.
4. Reciprocity buys less
Wins with the fickle consumer can be very short lived in a “what have you done for me lately” world. The reciprocity that brands used to rely on in building loyalty now has a much shorter echo, with the result that consumers want something new more often. That’s why Hyundai went on to develop innovative, integrated mobile technology and Amazon seems to have a new innovation every day drone delivery It’s also why the blush is fading slightly on Apple, as its products age, its competition strengthens and its customers grow impatient. Unfortunately resting on your laurels today, for even a moment, is risky.
Many brands, however, don’t lend themselves to product innovation like an Apple and Hyundai, or data innovation like Amazon. While a beer can that tells me when it’s cold is cool, it doesn’t change the essential experience of the brand in the same way as introducing the iPhone can.
So instead of trying to create new product attributes, those categories need to focus on attaching new emotional attributes to the brand. Old Spice has famously committed itself to this kind of creative differentiation.
The product doesn’t change, the value doesn’t change, but the story, however, is always changing (the latest: Old Spice). But this takes a really a big commitment to feeding the beast, because, like Chinese food, the fickle audience is hungry again twenty minutes later.
5. Customer experience is the foundation
The foundation for success in the Super-Service economy is the customer experience. Even more so since social media has connected all the parts of the customer cycle, from pre-sale to post-sale, with the result that the customer experience has also become very influential on the acquisition process. Being a customer and being a prospect used to be two fairly separate states. Of course there was a bit of word of mouth between the two, but nothing like the organized deluge today.
Now, other than the performance of the product or service itself, the experience of being a customer of your brand has become your most important marketing asset or liability. Which is why it’s amazing to me how so many companies still treat their customers so poorly, putting at risk not only customer loyalty, but also their reputation.
Cable providers and Direct-TV, for example, are notorious. How often do they do anything for their customers except jack up the rates? But for prospects, there’s always a new deal, a new benefit, a new offer, virtually every day.
The good news is that this marketplace is navigable despite its complexity and demanding consumers. With the right modeling and process (3Cs) it can be broken down, understood and managed. This starts with carefully mapping all the connections that make up the consumer journey, and the surrounding influence eco-system. Then the game becomes to decide where you want your brand to sit on the continuum, between product innovation on one end and creative innovation on the other.
However, no matter where you end up, in the Super-Service economy you have to start by making sure that customer expectations, online and offline, are always met and exceeded.
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