Even though you’ve heard about many types of growing current trends, this is one that is here to stay: the expectation economy. The teams in TrendWatching nicely developed the meaning of this trend and I took their findings to gather the main pillars.
“The expectation economy is an economy inhabited by experienced, well-informed consumers from Canada to South Korea who have a long list of high expectations that they apply to each and every good, service and experience on offer. Their expectations are based on years of self-training in hyper consumption, and on the biblical flood of new-style, readily available information sources, curators and filters. Which all help them track down and expect not just basic standards of quality, but the ‘best of the best’.” The expectation economy has been building slowly in the background. What is the big difference from five to ten years ago? Word of mouth has never been so fast, making product launches instantly global, turning every new brand into a potential ‘player’, and most importantly, rewarding exceptional performance with immediate interest and approval from consumers.
In fact, never before has intelligence on the best, the cheapest, the first, the most original and the most relevant been so openly available to consumers. And never before have consumers enjoyed doing research and ‘competitive analysis’ and ‘benchmarking’ as much as they do now, and doing it far more diligently than most corporations do. What would be the effect on consumers? Once high(er) expectations have been set, they are bound to go largely unmet, since the majority of brands still choose not to keep up with the best of the best. Indifference will hit those brands that consumers know are underperforming, and that they can avoid due to sufficient availability of the best of the best. If you’re working for one of those underperforming brands, the scary thing is not just selling less (or nothing). It’s that indifferent consumers will stop being forgiving, they will stop being cooperative and giving you feedback on how to be more like other, better performing competitors. They’ll just leave and never return, without telling you why.
Perpetual irritation is just as bad: this will occur when consumers are forced to buy from an underperforming brand, due to limited or no availability of what they already know is the best of the best. It will only create fake loyalty and make them postpone their purchases for what is really worth for them. In the past a brand could get away with not performing at its peak, since consumers didn’t enjoy full transparency of the best, the cheapest, the first, the most original, the most relevant. That’s really over. And things are bound to get even more radical: the expectation economy is a given for younger generations, who are unburdened by an era of mass production, mass advertising and above all, mass ignorance.
Your competition could be anyone
First of all, focusing solely on your own industry will obscure the fact that in economies of abundance, consumers are increasingly spending their ‘play money’ on goods and services that net them the experience, the indulgence, the excitement, the satisfaction they’re looking for at a specific moment. Which could be new sneakers (even though they already own five pairs), or a new cell phone (even though their current one is perfectly fine) or a long weekend away (even though, if they’re European, it’s probably their fourth getaway this year). So if you’re, let’s say, Nike, you’re definitely competing with Reebok and Adidas once a consumer has made up his or her mind that it’s sneakers he or she desperately wants. But before minds are made up, when shopping for a certain kind of excitement, it may as well be Nokia or Starwood Hotels.
Expectations are often set outside your industry
Limiting yourself to your own industry will make you miss important changes in consumer expectations, and will thus put you at risk of disappointing or even annoying consumers. Every industry has its own ‘innovation competence’, and the innovations they’re bringing to market not only excite their own customers, they also shape their expectations for other industries. Whether it’s Singapore Airlines’ sense of status, Starbucks’ understanding of rituals, H&M’s obsession with making up-to-the-minute fashion affordable, or Apple’s prowess in design and usability. And while flawless execution is never easy, the thinking and attitude behind it isn’t impossible to mirror. Consumers know this, too. Hence their indifference and irritation when it comes to the non-H&Ms, the non-Singapore Airlines, the non-Apples. Broad trends based on consumer needs and wants will obviously unlock more of these expectations.
Just copying your competitors is a race to the bottom
Last but not least, if you’re obsessed with what your direct competition is doing, you will always end up copying new concepts in your industry. Which means that, unless you’re comfortable with being a ‘smart follower’, this is not going to unleash your innovative brilliance. Now, all of this is of course not to say that you shouldn’t actively track what’s happening in your own industry. But in the next 12 months, do also constantly ask yourself: who are our other competitors? What experiences could our product or service be traded in for? And what can we learn from other industries setting consumer expectations across the board?