February 5, 2018, posted by Tony Quin

The Expectation Gap

The gulf between expectations and reality has always been a graveyard for unprepared companies. This gap exists even more so in the age of the demanding digital consumer. Their expectations have been shaped by the innovations and new experiences that the world’s leading-edge brands have created using new technology over the last 15 years. Unfortunately for the many other companies that have just watched from the sidelines, this has created a considerable gap between what consumers want and expect from brands, and what they are still, for the most part, getting from most.

Many companies have nibbled around the edges of the challenges; doing the minimum necessary. They have jumped into various tactics de jour such as social media, apps, podcasts and responsive websites. They may also have dipped their toes into the product innovation waters, but mostly their efforts have been skin deep. Numerous studies have confirmed that consumers want innovation from all the companies they use. They want brands to reimagine their solutions, their products, the way they deliver their services throughout the consumer experience at every point in their journey.

Consumers don’t care what form this reimagining comes in as long as it results in better, more effortless and delightful ways for them to accomplish their goals. Companies that deliver on these desires win-over consumers, but in the face of these better experiences, brand loyalty, no matter how long standing, is no defense.

Becoming an innovative consumer-driven organization is not, however, just a skin that a company can put on. It starts with a top-down commitment to a customer-oriented culture, which translates into the knowledge, data, systems, and creativity that can create peerless brand experiences. Underlying this effort needs to be a comprehensive strategic understanding of brand’s audience psychology, which in turn drives everything from the definition of the brand itself to marketing strategy and the tactics that result. This foundational work includes developing the brand purpose and mission, brand values, value proposition and positioning, as well as brand personality, expression, and identity. It lays the groundwork for marketing research, customer segmentation and personas, mapping the consumer journey, channel strategy, and content strategy to name a few. It’s as complex as the modern marketplace is, but brands must connect all these pieces of the puzzle to know what to do, where, when, what to say at each moment, and why the consumer is going to care.

Unfortunately, companies all too often skip over many, and sometimes most of these critical puzzle pieces. Then they wonder why, with their old-school product orientation, they seem to have lost touch with their customers and see their market shares slipping.

After all the years of serving the needs of the company first, we have only been in the business of serving the consumer first for a short time, so we are all still learning. But we live in a time when companies have to re-imagine themselves from the ground up before a fast-moving competitor will do it for them; a time where product design, manufacturing, and marketing need to come together on a foundation of smart strategic planning, to meet and exceed consumer expectations. The time for sitting on the sidelines is passed, and as more companies embrace the new consumer realities, the dark corners where they could previously hide are becoming fewer and fewer.

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