Imagine that whatever's considered to be the newest, coolest, most-value-adding differentiator in your sector today is going to become the 'cost of entry' - the table stakes and a commoditised feature - over the next three years. Imagine if that happened faster, assuming the velocity of consumer expectations increases, which it does every year. What's your next move, asks Robert Passikoff Founder, president for Brand Keys.
According to this year's Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI), which predictively measures how engaged consumers are with their brands and how likely they are to behave positively toward your brand in the actual marketplace - where "engagement" is defined by how well brands meet their customers' unconstrained-by-reality expectations - those expectations are up, over 64 categories, having accelerated a whopping 16% over last year.
If you're thinking, "Well, that's not too bad. Everyone knows our brand, we have distribution, we have all that social media, and people tweet about us, so we don't have to worry" then your position is wrong in so many ways that it's hard to explain without complex charts.
Brands, on average, have only managed to keep up with those increased expectations by 7%, so the "gap" between what consumers expect and what brands actually deliver is, aptly enough, large enough to drive a large SUV through.
So who ought to be worrying now? Here are 2015's CLEI top five categories with the fastest growing consumer expectations (numbers in brackets indicate growth over the previous year year):
- Automotive (32%)
- Online Streaming Video (30%)
- Mutual Funds (28%)
- Luxury Cosmetics (25%)
- Fast-Casual Restaurants (22%)
So what should you do?
Even if your brand isn't in one of the top-5 fastest expectation-growth categories, it's something you'll need to address sooner or later. All categories are growing, so first, you need to find a way to accurately measure your customers' expectations, because expectations are category-specific. What happens in the smartphone category, doesn't happen the same way for headphones, no matter how much social media folks wish it so.
Second, you need to identify the category-specific values - these days those are more likely emotional than rational - that make large enough contributions to consumer engagement to meaningfully help close the gap between what your consumers expect and what your brand is felt to deliver. You can't just guess at it. Well, you can, but it's probably not going to work out the way you hoped.
Take the Automotive category, for example. No, that enormous increase in expectations doesn't have anything to do with the flying cars they promised back in the 1950's. The values driving those category's expectations today have to do with Personal Connectivity and Connected-Vehicle Technology.
And what of the other fastest-growing expectation categories? Online Streaming Video's main area of expectation-delivery has to do with Original Content, Not Limited By Traditional TV/Cable Boundaries. Mutual Fund values have to do with What I Can Do When I Retire. It turns out that values for Luxury Cosmetics has less to do with Looks and more to do with Nurturing, while Fast-Casual Restaurants have absolutely nothing to do with dollar-menus and everything to do with Customization of Truly Healthy Food - all of which are values which were probably not the first ones that leapt into your mind.
"You need to address them, and you need to do it before they turn into category-value commodities. Brands that are able to better meet customer expectations and are able to address them with emotional values that are meaningful and differentiating will always see more, more highly-engaged customers behaving better toward them in the marketplace," concluded Passikoff. "Do it before the competition and you'll have a real advantage, which is the bottom line benefit about meeting - even exceeding - growing expectations. It should be your bottom line, too."