Opinion / Four Trends Shaping The Modern Consumer
Customer behaviour is changing. Of course, change has always been an inevitable challenge that all marketers have to deal with, but in the past eight years in particular, mainstream acceptance of new technologies has forced businesses of all sizes to re-think exactly how they meet customers’ needs.
Mobile has perhaps been the main driver of this changing behaviour, with so many of us relying on smartphones (as well as smart watches and other smart devices) to the point they almost become our sixth sense. However, other technologies like 3D printing and automated services via robots have now come into the mainstream, opening up exciting new possibilities for fulfilling customer needs, and consequently changing people’s expectations.
If businesses today are going to compete, it is vital that they think about exactly who their customers are, how they behave and how they expect companies to interact with them. Through my research into consumer behaviour, the following four characteristics have become increasingly apparent in today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumer:
We want to be treated as individuals:
Today, the ideal segment size today is one. We are evolving towards a situation where everyone has his own services and products, tailored to their individual needs.
One of my favourite examples of this is ´nrml´ in New York – a store that makes personalised earphones based on just five photographs of your ear. They are made on site and adapted by a 3D printer so that your earphones fit perfectly.
We have had on-demand services for some time now, and for many customers it has become the expected standard, so this new phase of extreme personalisation of products is a sign of things to come.
We want convenience:
Customers today expect life to be fast, easy and fun. Companies like Uber, HelloFresh, Booking.com and Instagram all have built their success on one shared thing: they’re fast and easy to work with, and they inject an element of fun for the customer.
Convenience is the new basis of loyalty. If things don´t happen for customers quickly or easily enough, they will quickly go elsewhere. Today’s consumers want extreme simplicity – not long ago you needed an engineering degree to start up home appliances, but today a vacuum cleaning robot will work straight out of the box without even providing a manual.
Many more mature companies struggle with the idea of extreme simplicity as they have built their products, services and infrastructure around the idea that everything must be complete and perfect, and therefore complex. Today’s customer doesn´t like that – extreme simplicity is crucial to give them what they need, when they want it.
We want a human connection:
It is an interesting paradox of the digital world that the more we embrace digital, the more powerful human beings become again. Human interaction is increasingly scarce, meaning people now value sincere human contact much more highly.
Of course, you cannot automate this element of the customer relationship. The genuine personal skills are something that must be engrained in the company culture every day – computers still cannot offer empathy, passion or creativity, so people can build an emotional connection between consumers and companies. Seven out of 10 consumers still value human contact, even when digital channels are functioning perfectly.
We want to buy from awesome companies:
People have always liked cool brands. However, today there is a growing group of companies that consumers connect with on an emotional level and really pride themselves in buying from them.
Tesla, Apple, Google, Coolblue are all good examples. They go further than just delivering a product to share a vision with their customers that, in their opinion, will change the world. Tesla isn´t a car company, it’s an energy company. Elon Musk is convinced that the Earth will be destroyed due to poor energy use so he set up Tesla to solve that problem. He recently shared all of Tesla´s patents online and trade secrets with the rest of the world because he found that things aren´t going fast enough, and realised that if he wants to save the world from wasteful energy consumption he cannot do it on his own. The story of Tesla is virtually a film script that we are all watching, and you know that when your company’s story is being followed by your consumers, you have succeeded in engaging them.
We need a fresh marketing strategy:
In order to keep up with this changing customer behaviour and offer products and services that are both personalised and convenient, businesses must embrace the ever-increasing possibilities of digital technology. For marketers, that means using data intelligently and developing intuitive user interfaces. For some businesses, marketers may even look at how their customers are using new technology, such as how 3D printing might offer new ways to respond to the needs of their customers more quickly.
Crucially however, the marketers can only measure up to these last two consumer characteristics by offering a human touch that will make an emotional connection with customers. If you are going to make your brand stand out in both these elements, you need a strategy combining modern PR, modern HR and the kind ambitious attitude that will capture people’s imaginations.
Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is author of When Digital Becomes Human, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99. Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at www.youtube.com/stevenvanbelleghem or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com