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To succeed in today’s experience-led economy, it’s not enough for companies to simply “do better” than their industry competitors. Consumers have a holistic expectation for brand experiences, which is forcing companies to redefine their competition.
While brands are witnessing the positive impact of well-designed consumer experiences — investing accordingly to stay ahead of the competition — the traditional method of simply outperforming competitors within an industry has evolved. In the past, customers judged an experience with one brand based solely on their experience with other brands within the same category, i.e. comparing their experience at a Wendy’s with their experience at a McDonald’s. In today’s rapidly growing industrial landscape, customers are now judging brand experiences based on expectations formed by their experiences across all industries.
Take Bank of America and Starbucks, two companies in two vastly different industries. But in the same way a customer can order a drink using the Starbucks app and avoid the line completely, so too can a customer schedule a financial-planning meeting or make a virtual deposit and avoid the line as well. Customers expect their commercial-banking experience to be as fast and convenient as their morning coffee run.
In an article published by Fjord, Baiju Shah and John Greene defined this phenomenon as “‘liquid expectations,’ when customer experiences seep over from one industry to an entirely different industry.”
Customer expectations are now fluid across industries. Once consumers experience something in one industry, they expect it to be present in others, and if it is not, it will negatively affect their experience. This has forced companies to pivot, redefining their competition and more frequently integrating innovative approaches found in other industries.
Uber disrupted the transportation industry with the launch of never-before-seen innovations in ridesharing, and these strides had a far-reaching impact on the fast-food and restaurant industries as well. The development of Uber has led to the launch of Uber Eats, which has affected customer expectations in the restaurant industry. Now customers expect to order their favorite dishes from traditional sit-down restaurants without leaving the comfort of their home.
Here are three ways to remain competitive in the world of liquid expectations:
Today, brands are vying for as much consumer screen time as they can get. When creating a strategy, product road map, feature set or vision, it is helpful to know what users and customers are actively engaging with across all devices, and compete accordingly.
For example, when Apple released the Apple watch, it came with the ability to download a plethora of apps that were already closely integrated into users’ day-to-day routines. While these apps were already accessible from a user’s iPhone screen, Apple knew customers could also benefit from a more convenient way of accessing the same information on an even smaller screen.
Customers judge against what they see is possible. Brands must do the same, by staying curious and applying innovations from other industries in a way that further personalizes and improves the customer experience. Assess other industries for opportunities to remove barriers for customers.
Features released on Instagram and Pinterest have given businesses the opportunity to link to their products and services directly in a post. No longer does a static image of a product come with a 15 — to 20 — minute customer commitment to research the product’s origin, price and availability. Now customers can be linked directly to a product they like with one click.
Disrupt or die
Businesses must disrupt their industries in order to stay ahead of the competition. Shah and Greene believe that liquid expectations “pose a broad and acute competitive threat,” stating that “only marketers who continuously reshape offerings for shifting expectations can reclaim control of the customer experience, and foster loyalty and even passion for their services.”
The graveyard of corporations that have failed to innovate continues to grow. But among the failures are bright spots. Take Tiffany & Co. Struggling financially just a few years ago, the iconic jewelry brand has made a comeback with in-store experiences and products like the Blue Box Café in its New York City flagship store, and a new engagement ring design.
Strides in innovation create the expectation that things are easy, seamless and intuitive. Businesses that are not rising to meet and exceed those expectations will inevitably create frustration for their users. The real competition isn’t found in one’s own industry; the real competition consists of whatever is taking up the customer’s time.