Changing Consumer Expectations
Technology is ever-evolving and with it, audience expectations. Audiences are immersed in great user experiences produced by billion-dollar brands and thus have changed their expectations for all brands.
Audience expectations have shifted forcing you to change your strategy and adapt to the audience’s needs. Only organizations that adapt to these expectations will continue to grow. An organization or brand story without providing a parallel and authentic experience of the brand story, or vice versa is no longer enough.
A “new world” strategy for today’s audiences requires organizations to invest in:
- understanding their audience’s experience of their brand story
- telling a compelling and authentic brand story
- putting audiences at the center of both the brand story and the experience as the protagonist
Achieving a better understanding of consumer experience, user experience, your brand, and story can help your organization adapt to the changing needs of the consumer. Read further to learn these concepts, how to fit the puzzle pieces together, and the key aspects of providing a story + experience for your consumers.
Three Definitions: Consumer Experience, User Experience, and Brand.
Let’s start by defining and differentiating key terms. From a high level, consumer experience (CX) is defined by an audience’s experience of the brand story. CX lives in the mind of the audience.
CX is influenced by:
- brand reputation
- social truth
- internal operations
- company values
- sales process
- product delivery
Generally, user experience or UX is more narrowly defined by how users experience your digital platforms, branding, information architecture, your website, or app. UX is defined in part by the brand expression. Commonly usability, branding (look and feel), interactive design, user interface design, and visual design, information architecture, and content strategy.
When talking about the brand, marketers of the past would consider the 4 P’s, Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. They would go about determining a target market, differentiators, and a frame of reference or criteria for decision-making.
The new world defines a brand as the sum of experiences. We should consider the brand as the connective tissue between the user experience and the consumer experience. Think of a brand as the heart of the marketing organization. It pumps the lifeblood into the design, brand identity, and positioning. In the visualization below you’ll see the many branches making up or tied to brand.
Consumers are reacting to the brand as a sum of experiences. They consider the following relationship attributes with a brand.
- Impression: What does the brand say to me about me?
- Interaction: Does the brand do what it promises to do?
- Responsiveness: Does the brand respond to my needs?
- Resilience: Does the brand care about my future?
User Experience Redefined
My favorite definition of user experience (UX) sees “the brand as a multidimensional construct matching the firm’s functional and emotional values with the performance and psychosocial needs of consumers.” (www.tandfonline.com, April 2019) Refer to the double vortex below to supplement the definition. The left of the vortex describes the internal brand. Things like your mission or vision statement.
Note that consumer perception is the connection between the brand inside the organization and the brand inside consumers. If brands make claims that they are not living up to, it can have a negative impact on the brand. Authenticity is crucial as consumers can easily see misalignments in today’s landscape.
Good brands are able to match the internal brand and the external brand. Great brands will also tell a compelling story and tell it authentically. They will be able to describe a narrative that a consumer can believe in.
A strong UX incorporates every level of the iceberg in the below image. When the internal message matches the external message and actual experience, consumers will interpret your brand as authentic.
Aspects of Great Brands
Great brands have recognized that consumer’s expectations have shifted in the following ways.
- Consumers expect great user experiences
- Users talk back in the “always-on” environment
- Consumers are active participants in the brand story
- Customers know as much as the brand
Customer feedback, feedback loops, and combining channels in the right context are other indicators of good customer experience. Organizations should acknowledge the feedback and check to ensure the exchange met the consumer’s expectations.
In the “old world” messaging was one-way communications. Brands would use their channels to push messages to consumers. Now brands have additional channels (i.e. social) to push messages and consumers have the ability to talk back, anytime, anywhere. 9 am – 5 pm customer service or automated responses to a twitter mention do not work in the always-on world.
Understand which channels are appropriate for your brand and in which combination. Then use the consumers in the dialogue with your brand.
Points of Difference and Points of Parity
Points of Parity (POP) are elements that are considered mandatory for a brand to be considered a legitimate competitor in a specific category. They are largely similar to offerings of like competitors and are what make consumers consider your brand, along with your competitor.
Points of difference (POD) are aspects of a product or service that make your offering distinct or different from your competitor. Brands should be careful not to claim these differences as core messaging. For example, high quality or better customer service. If you claim better customer service and the consumer doesn’t experience better customer service it will have a negative impact on your brand. If you provide better customer and let the consumer tell the story, it will have a positive impact on your brand.
Consumers now have on-demand access to information. They do not need to consult the seller and may know as much as if not more than the seller about a given product or service. Available data is empowering consumers to make very informed, on-demand decisions about their purchases.
Know what consumers are sharing and saying about your brand. Control the message, make sure it’s authentic, and back it up with a consistent experience for consumers.
Is Your Brand a Bad First Date?
If it’s all about me, me, me, your date (the consumer) will leave disappointed and never call you back. Avoid this by considering what is in it for your consumer. Tell the consumer what they get for being here. Tell them why they should stay.
This is where quality storytelling is important. Quality storytelling means increased customer engagement, higher conversion rates, and more people sharing their experiences with others. Consumers easily identify with protagonists and want to be the star of their own story. Make your consumer the star of the story.
Consumers are immersed in great user experiences by billion-dollar brands and thus have changed their expectations for all brands.
Consumers will make loyalty choices based on the combination of both story and experience and its crucial to be authentic. The brand promise must match the consumer experience.