Staying ahead of the curve

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CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Customer experience has been on the marketing industry’s agenda for some time but it’s no longer a nice to have, it an essential ingredient in your marketing strategy. It’s predicted that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, and a survey by the Harvard Business Review at the beginning of this year backs this up, as 86% of business leaders agree that customer experience is now vital for success.

The age old marketing question “are you functional or delightful?” is now more relevant than ever and you must be clear on where you stand on this point or pay the price. Brands must continue to look at the customer journey and ask how they might incrementally improve the experience at each step. The boldest will work to eradicate steps all together and redefine consumer expectations in the process.

Considerate brands will strive to eliminate attention-hogging pain points in their customer’s lives, even if they are outside the brand’s ‘responsibility’ and waves of entrepreneurial startups continue to launch new solutions for old problems.

EXPERIENCES GO VIRTUAL

The Experience Economy has gained a new dimension: the Virtual Experience.

The maturing of Virtual, Augmented and Mixed technologies has bought about a fundamental shift: from an internet in which information is the basic unit of currency, to one in which experiences are. These digital experiences are beginning to carry equal status to ‘real’ experiences, if not become more sought-after and prized.

The Virtual Experience Economy will take this status to the next level. In a truly infinite and boundless virtual world the usual physical limitations of cost, accessibility and personal capability no longer apply to experiences, making consumers’ time the only scarcity. Of course, this is a tech-fuelled trend but success will still require tapping into deep human behaviours. The Virtual Experience Economy requires a mindset shift from digital experiences that provide entertainment to digital experiences that accrue status. So ask yourself: how can you create virtual experiences that consumers will value – and want to share – more than they do their real world experience?

ANONYMITY MAKES A COMEBACK

Brands are increasingly recognizing non-traditional yet more authentic demographic segments and at the same time new volumes and sources of data are also taking many businesses closer to the nirvana of catering to a ‘segment of one’ at a mass scale. While customers will welcome the greater relevance that comes with both these approaches, true flexibility and fluidity means there will still be moments where everyone wants to break out and explore. As customers hand over more control to algorithms (or perhaps become increasingly aware of just how much their lives are already being shaped by these invisible forces) the urge to step outside one’s personal data-straightjacket will only grow.

This presents a real opportunity for brands, products and services that enable anonymity and freedom. This desire for anonymity will move beyond social platforms. As consumers become hyper-aware of how the prices they pay are influenced by their personal data, for example, the demand for tools and services that ensure fair treatment will be greater than ever.

THE NEW SUSTAINABILITY

The eco-friendliness of your products is now assumed (and if that’s an issue for you then stop reading NOW and tackle that first!).

Meanwhile the sharing economy, peer-to-peer consumerism and the rise of access-over-ownership business models have radically changed consumer expectations around utilization and waste. When you can pay to use cars by the minute, access office space by the hour, eat your food cooked by your neighbours and more, then ‘traditional’ business processes suddenly start to look even more wasteful.

Which is why smart brands will broaden their thinking around sustainability, finding and unlocking exciting new sources of value, or finding creative new ways to eliminate any wasted resource.

WELCOMING BIG BROTHER BRANDS

Convenience. Seamlessness. Relevance. Customer expectations around these intertwined basic needs have reached new heights this year. The relentless desire for (what would have only recently been) magical levels of personalized service will meet new intelligent technologies and lead to a new generation of Big Brother Brands. But now we’ll willingly be watched*.

Two new currents propelling this trend forward in 2017:

First, the upcoming displacement of the screen as the primary way of interacting with our digital devices. All major tech players have been vocal (!) in their belief that voice will be the interface of the future. And 2016 was a tipping point in terms of speech recognition. Second, these intuitive interactions will converge with the rapidly improving capabilities of – and consumer familiarity with – artificially intelligent assistants.

This trend might feel far off right now, but it is coming faster than you think. Take Amazon's Alexa platform's exponential expansion: in January 2016, there were 135 'skills' (third party capabilities) in the Alexa voice app store. By June 2016 there were 1,000, and by September 3,000!

The good news? These Big Brother Brands are taking a platform approach, enabling third parties to add capabilities to their ecosystems. Which means that you won’t need the resources of a tech giant to reach consumers. Hurrah!

Source: This article is a precis of Trendwatching’s “5 Trends for 2017” report and is published with the company’s permission. See more at www.trendwatching.com

* Keith Jensen, whose tweet inspired this trend name.

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