For brands to win customers over they need to delight and surprise them by setting new expectations in service. That was the key message from the Wunderman ‘Wantedness’ breakfast on Friday.

Brands that understand and care

Wunderman commissioned some research that takes a renewed look at consumers’ relationships with brands. The concept of Wantedness is derived from results suggesting that we want to be understood and ‘wanted’ by brands, though much of the research also reflects the incredibly high expectations that many customers now have of brand experiences. Survey results from the US and UK suggest that not only are there expectations that experiences should be personalised, but also that brands should actively demonstrate that they care about customers and their values. In fact, almost three quarters (72%) of UK respondents said they only consider brands that show that they understand and care about “me”. Over half (54% of UK respondents) suggested that they feel more loyal to brands that show a deep understanding of their priorities and preferences.

As social media use continues to increase and 4 in 10 people globally follow their favourite brands on a social media channel, brand affiliation has become part of online personas. The research suggests that brands should therefore make efforts to reflect the attitudes and aspirations of their customers. In fact, 84% of UK respondents say they are loyal to brands that share their values. Recently, Under Armour saw a decline in sales that was linked with the CEO’s statement supporting President Trump. On the other hand, outdoor store REI has closed its doors on consecutive Black Fridays and has seen a marked boost in positive publicity and – correspondingly – store visits.

This all points towards a new meaning of customer loyalty: brands being loyal to customers and their values, not the other way around.

Expectations across categories

One reason why customers have high expectations is that they are increasingly comparing every brand experience with a few trendsetting brands. This is a similar idea to one shared by David Mattin of Trendwatching, who speaks about new trends emerging when an external change unlocks a new way of serving a basic human need. This trend rewires the expectations of consumers, and these expectations ripple across generations and industries.

Uber, for example, set new expectations by showing an interactive map of drivers close to your location, and by having taxis available within a few minutes. This has already changed UX (user experience) expectations for pick-up and delivery services, but will likely influence the way we view offerings from other brands in completely different categories. This cross-category comparison is confirmed by Wunderman’s data: 85% of UK respondents claimed to measure all brands against a select few top-performing brands.

Another example is the iPhone, which combined typical phone functionality with that of an internet device, camera and iPod. It also gave users the chance to personalise the phone through apps, making each phone completely unique. The iPhone set expectations for mobile phones, and also for many other internet-enabled devices.

New innovations like these have the power to delight and surprise customers by exceeding their expectations. Wunderman’s survey found that nearly everyone wants to engage with brands that set new standards across categories. So brands can’t just copy their competitors – it’s about finding that next innovation that goes above and beyond, and setting new standards of customer service.

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