The consumer landscape is constantly evolving and the pace of change only seems to be accelerating. It was once enough for brands to remain consistent - delivering the same product, service and messaging kept customers coming back. However in this new era, where change is the norm and consumers have multiple brands in every industry vying for their attention, consistency is likely to result in being left behind and forgotten.
What wins over consumers in the new era? Experience. We’re all aware that people prefer to buy less and do more, but experience goes beyond just activities or one-off moments. Experience is everything a brand does to connect with customers. It includes its purpose, personality, people, process, place and product. Now, experience matters more than ever. But what makes it so important in the new era?
Thanks to the internet, consumers generally have a lot more choice - of brands, of ways to shop, to be entertained, to connect, to learn and to shape who they want to be. We’ve seen industries disrupted by startups introducing new processes and setting new standards. Consumers are flocking to the services that are quicker, more convenient or more fun. In order to win, brands need to ensure their experiences exceed expectations. Are your products and services innovative? Are you meeting customers where they are? Are you able to solve problems and offer quick fixes? If not, another brand will.
The way consumers engage with brands has undergone a huge shift in this new era. In the past, it was enough to raise awareness and keep brands front of mind through traditional advertising and up until recently, brand consistency was also considered key. But as people turn away from scheduled TV broadcasts and print to streaming services, podcasts and other online media, traditional advertising is no longer as effective as it once was. Now, brands engage consumers with experiences. Whether its an exciting pop-up, immersive flagship, engagement across social channels or new service models, brand experiences work to create connections with customers, making them much more memorable. They’re also a new media model - consumers are now liking and sharing experiences, creating their own content and getting the word out - replacing traditional advertising. This means brands have even more incentive to provide customers with platforms and inspiration to share experiences.
In an age of peak anxiety, trust is becoming an increasingly important topic. Fake news, a term now used so often it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, has sparked a need for authenticity. A 2017 Marketing Week survey also found 42% of consumers distrust brands and 69% distrust advertising. Brands hoping to regain waning consumer goodwill must be seen to be actively fighting the fake news problem and change the narrative in their own industries in favour of transparency. In this new world, brands must strive to become arbiters of truth. Experience is a way for brands to open up their processes and guide the consumer through truthful storytelling.
According to Stylus, the population in suburban areas of the US has increased by 16% since 2000, yet has only increased by 12% in urban areas. This desire to live in suburban areas is changing the way we look at experiences. People are placing more and more importance on community, valuing spaces that allow them to get together and connect. In London, we’ve seen a renaissance of place-making in new developments such as Coal Drops Yard and in the popularity and investment in farmer’s markets, food halls and stalls.
Consumers are increasingly concerned with the way businesses behave, what they stand for and the impact of their business decisions. They want to spend their time and money with brands that align with their values. Having a clear purpose and letting it guide everything is extremely important for brands wanting to connect with their customers today. Transparency is also key - customers value companies that let them in on the process of how they work and reward the ones who operate as sustainably and ethically as possible. Actions continue to speak louder than words in the new era.
The current consumer landscape is often painted as disconcerting and the new era of experience confusing. However, while it may be a challenging time for brands, it’s also a time for opportunity. Consumers are more willing than ever to try something new - if the experience is right.