Consumers are better informed than ever – but canny businesses can still earn their brand loyalty by giving them connection, convenience, comfort and community
It’s late spring and the world feels just as volatile as it did in January. If business owners aren’t to fall prey to strategic vertigo, they need to find solid ground from which to plan: to identify – and focus on – what they can be sure of. Ten years since the launch of the iPhone and almost as long since the banking crash, now’s a good time to redefine a new normal: and four new rules to navigate it.
The biggest change in recent years has been the evolving role of consumers, from followers to leaders. Smartphones, and the apps and services around them, have given consumers unprecedented power: greater control over everything from purchasing decisions and media choice to personal health and skills acquisition. As a result, they don’t suffer foolish brands gladly.
But they still need brands’ help. Technology is empowering but can drain their time. Combined with the working hours required by a post-recession economy and a Fomo-led [fear of missing out] desire to fit more into each day, it’s created much greater demand for convenience, simplicity and speed.
Technology’s contributed to a mood of continuous change. Exciting for some, it creates ambiguity and anxiety for many: exacerbated by political and social change, from Brexit and Trump to the uncertainty of the gig economy.
Meanwhile the increased knowledge, networking capabilities and corporate transparency that smart technologies bring have driven consumers’ horizontal trust – faith in the opinions of peers, of people ‘like them’ – at the expense of vertical trust (faith in those ‘above’, from governments and the media, to ‘experts’ and brands).
To navigate this new normal, brands should adhere to four new rules. Be connected: consumers are omnichannel; if a brand isn’t, they’ll find one that is. Be convenient: make customers’ lives and purchase journeys easier. Be comforting: help them feel good about their lives via empowerment, positive reinforcement, indulgence or escapism. Be communal: the more customers feel welcomed into a brand family, the less likelihood they’ll switch to a competitor.
With a volatile geopolitical situation, growing conflict between protectionism and globalisation, and a wave of disruption sweeping traditional industries, no company can be certain of thriving in tomorrow’s world. But by following the new rules, they’ll be better placed than the competition for whatever the future brings.
Will Higham is a business strategist, futures speaker and founder of consultancy Next Big Thing