We're in the midst of remarkable change not seen since the industrial revolution. Technological advancements are ushering in new mindsets for consumers and marketers alike; increasing expectations for flexibility, on-demand everything and data-driven intelligence have changed the rules of consumer behavior.
In a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers who report a high level of alignment of tech-driven trends, nearly 70 percent have seen a rise in their personal demands for instant access and customization. Fifty-two percent said they always choose products or services that don't make them wait. And contrary to conventional marketing philosophy, consumers are increasingly willing to buy and embrace an unfamiliar brand on Amazon if it comes with a five-star rating.
Just a few years from now, how we shop, connect with and think about brands will be very different. So how can brands shape their marketing strategy today to ensure they stay relevant tomorrow? Here are fix fundamental ways brands can prepare for the customer of the future.
Never interrupt customer 'flow'
The customer of the future will gain freedom through mobility. As technology allows us to untie many binds, fixed acquisitions that once anchored us such as jobs and contracts will soon flow with us. Our survey found that consumers were six times more likely to prefer the flexibility of renting over the stability of ownership.
Brands that meet their customers where they are and flow smoothly with their de-located, independent lives will win in the future. Never make a customer feel tied down; make convenience and flexibility a selling point. We've seen the beginnings of this shift already: with the need to hail a cab, visit the grocery store, or stop at the bank diminishing by the day. Even the most minor interruptions will stand out once the world is dramatically streamlined by technology.
Ground trust in transparency, not authority
We'll increasingly be tracked and track ourselves, but we'll also reap greater benefits of social connection and personalized recommendations. Our wearables will know if we need more calcium, our refrigerator will know if we need more milk and our car will know the cheapest place to pick it up. Social experiences will dominate; sharing on social platforms will be easier than ever, and benefits like lower premiums and product discounts will flow to those who are willing to share their data.
This seemingly unlimited amount of consumer data is ripe with opportunity for brands and innovators. But tread lightly. When all can be tracked, consumers will demand transparency. This heightened visibility will lead to a rise of reliance on ratings, and every brand considered will have a score. To win, it'll be ever more important that a brand be transparent and open up the customer experience to full accountability.
Give consumers freedom
In the future, technology will provide new opportunities to wield power in line with personal preferences. Modularity, mixing and customization will become the expectation. Customers will have high expectations—they know they're being tracked, so they'll expect their products and services to understand and even anticipate them.
Give your customers the power to unbundle, customize, make, modulate and mix. Standard is simply the starting point; successful brands will have to give more and grant customers the power to control their own unique experiences.
Don't make them wait
The appetite for the instantaneous knows no bounds. Everything from entertainment to groceries will be available in an instant, and repetitive tasks will be automated, freeing up more of our precious time. With 85 percent of consumers feeling more efficient thanks to today's technologically-driven world, the growing desire for on-demand everything has opened up doors for disrupters everywhere.
Eliminate customers' three nonstarters: Waiting, boredom and unnecessary effort. Make everything instant, fun and easy. Keep up with their ever-increasing expectations for immediacy and efficiency.
Feed the appetite for knowledge
In the future, not knowing will be nearly impossible. With artificial intelligence and constant access to the world's knowledge base, we'll know more than ever. We'll see a dramatic shift of expertise toward the wisdom of the crowd; we'll trust diverse opinions over the individual expert.
We found that 62 percent of consumers would rather make decisions based on intelligent apps and crowdsourced information than on the advice of friends and family. Equip customers with as much information as possible, from as many sources as possible. Open your traditional expertise to the wisdom of the crowd and artificial intelligence.
Merge digital and human worlds
Today, we speak of two worlds: Digital versus real. But this distinction will disintegrate with the expansion of augmented reality, virtual reality and digital identities. We'll live in immersive environments that drive collaboration, connection and empathy. And our identity will grant us access to new possibilities. As any teenager with a Snapchat Story already knows, we'll carefully craft personal brands as one of our few remaining owned assets.
With 80 percent of the consumers surveyed feeling the need to be constantly connected, brands need to help customers do more and be more by integrating digital and real. Capitalize on all the new possibilities in gamification, beautification, information and communication.
If brands stay ahead of technological trends and remain in touch with human needs, they will know where customers are headed and beat them there. They'll fly through daunting change into a world of unprecedented opportunity.
—Dan Clay is a senior associate in innovation based in Lippincott’s New York office.