Changing Expectations and Brand Trust in the Age of Mobile
By Ray Schleibs – Iimagine Creative Innovation
Customer Expectations of products, services and experiences have never been higher. Expectations of what will be received and experienced during an interaction or contact with a business or organisation are becoming hyper-sensitised by the rapidly expanding availability and transparency of information. The rapid growth in the volume of information readily available to a potential customer of products, services or experiences on offer, the detailed level of transparency, clarity and understanding of what is ‘actually on offer’ as opposed to what is being pitched or promoted, and the increasing viability and awareness of available alternate and substitute offerings are no doubt having a significant influence on customer perceptions of choice, value and quality.
In the ‘Age of Mobile’ an exponential increase of readily available information is clearly changing people’s expectations of what benefit and experience will be actually delivered by a chosen product or service and how closely that benefit and experience will meet their specific needs. This paradigm shift toward increasingly ‘perfect knowledge’ often referred to as ‘Absolute Information’, in the hands of current and future customers presents a very different trading environment to businesses and organisations with resulting challenges and opportunities.
Brands as historical proxies for trust and quality
Historically brands have been a customer’s only readily available ‘proxy for trust and quality’. In the world before smartphone technologies and web based platforms such as Google and TripAdvisor, customers had very limited access to information about whether or not a particular product, service or experience would likely meet their particular needs and expectations. In this traditional marketplace (remembering that smartphones have only been around since about 2007) we all relied heavily on the opinions of those in close proximity to us, people whom which we would commonly have one on one interaction such as friends and relatives and/or rely on a commonly known ‘reputation’ of a particular business or brand to meet the type of product, service or experience that we were looking for and expecting. In such a marketplace brands have been traditionally marketed and ‘positioned’ themselves with a particular ‘brand promise’ to solicit existing and potential customers.
The new transparency around the traditional ‘Brand Promise’
A ‘brand promise’ is effectively a promoted and/or communicated guarantee by a business, that if you were to choose to interact with that particular ‘brand’ that its products, services and the overall experience of your interaction would be as ‘promised’. This brand promise could be communicated either clearly and explicitly and/or subtly and implicitly. Traditionally, over time, brands that gained a ‘commonly recognised reputation’ for delivering on their promoted ‘brand promise’ gradually became ‘trusted brands’ and became accepted as consistently delivering ‘quality’, ‘interactions’ and ‘experiences’ as promised. But what if you hadn’t interacted with this brand before, and what if you didn’t know anyone in your close circle of friends or relatives that had had any experience with interacting with this brand either? In the absence of any close advice, opinion or advocacy you would have to decide to take a risk on believing that the particular business with their promoted ‘brand promise’ would deliver on your exact needs and your quality and experience expectations. Such ‘blind faith’ decision making with limited available clarifying information or referrals has always involved significant a level of risk, making bad decisions and choices relatively common. In the majority of situations your choice likely paid off with an experience that met or even exceeded your expectations, but there were also no doubt times that your choice did not meet your expectations based upon which you will have chosen to not engage with that brand or its products again in the future if possible. In many cases in this information poor, ‘non-transparent’ world it was difficult to find other competing brands selling or promoting the products or services that you needed so you would be forced to again use brands, products or services that hadn’t met you expectations previously but where no clear choice or alternative was available. Interestingly there are many businesses that have mistaken repeat customers as ‘loyal’ when in fact it may we have been the case that they continued to return to a business or brand due only to convenience, habit or simply no transparency of easily found alternatives.
This said how then have we traditionally decided to engage with or purchase from one particular brand over another? The answer is simply the effectiveness of marketing, promotions and communications. The brands that have been the most effective and accurate in targeting their marketing and promotions to their existing and potential customers have traditionally taken the lion’s share of any available business in their marketplace. But what if the marketplace very suddenly became largely ‘transparent’ which choices, opinions, and previously unknown options, both locally and globally, where readily presented to you? What if all of this information was now available to you in increasingly user friendly formats, at your finger tips, 24/7? And what if these options, promotions, etc where now tailored and targeted to your exact, individualised needs, desires and expectations? Now this changes everything!
Expectations of a Brand in the Age of Mobile
If in the ‘pre-mobile’ marketplace we all relied heavily on our trust of marketers propositions and promotions and the commonly known ‘reputation’ of a particular business or brand to meet the type of product, service or experience that we were looking for and expecting, then what in the age of mobile? In the marketplace of the ‘age of mobile’ it is social media platforms, individualised search engines and enabling hyper-connected global networks of people sharing their personal experiences, opinions and views on everything including the quality and integrity of your brand, products and services. Does this mean the end of the brand promise and the end of ‘marketing’? No of course not, but does it mean that in an increasingly transparent, sharing and personalised world that the expectations of organisations, their marketing and their brands to be honest, relevant and socially responsible is increasingly heightened and growing. It also means that if your marketing communications and presence is not where the eyes of your potential customer is constantly and consistently with correctly targeted messages that you are not going to be in the game.
In this evolving ultra-competitive, global marketplace where an individual’s access to highly transparent ‘Absolute’ information about what your business has on offer, a wide range of opinions on the actual performance and delivered quality of your products, services and experiences along with that of all of your competitors, it is your organisation’s ability to adapt, innovate and deeply understand your customers that will determine your long term success and market relevance.
If you and your organisation still believe in and trust that the ‘information restricted’ customer of the pre mobile age will continue to drive your business and maintain their loyalty to you in the future, I would suggest that your ‘information empowered’ customers of today’s ‘mobile age’ are comparing you with your competitors, judging and continually assessing the value and experiences offered by you and your competitors. This is a world driven increasingly by customer defined choice and decreasingly by a seller defined offerings. The customer is in charge!
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Go forth Design and Innovate!
Regards Ray Schleibs – Iimagine Creative Innovation