Customer Expectations Have Changed—Is Your Brand Keeping Up?

Today’s CMOs must steer brands in a world rife with disruption and change. Every brand faces accelerating markets, unexpected competitors, multiplying touchpoints, and ever-savvier consumers. How can brands navigate these tumultuous waters?

Customer Expectations Have Changed—Is Your Brand Keeping Up?

We’ve heard from more than a few of our clients (usually in moments of quiet exasperation) that their jobs were easier 10 years ago.

In the past, so much of brand management meant careful decision-making, strong governance practices, rigid protocols, and above all, ensuring consistency. Put simply, the biggest challenge was making sure things didn’t get messed up. Today’s chief marketing officers face a new reality. They must steer brands in a world rife with disruption and change. Every brand faces accelerating markets, unexpected competitors, multiplying touchpoints, and ever-savvier consumers.

How can brands navigate these tumultuous waters? At Landor, we recently conducted our first Global Agile Brand Study to understand which behaviors fuel successful brands. We found that agility is key, with consumers remembering, discussing, and preferring agile brands over their competitors. Building and maintaining an agile brand requires giving up some of the sacrosanct practices of traditional brand management, but the brand managers that do so find their brands reaping the rewards.

So what are the six behaviors of an agile brand?

1. First and foremost, agile brands are principled and know what they stand for: They make a strong promise to their customers and never stop looking for new ways to deliver it. Dyson is a brand that holds this trait at its core, focusing on an unwavering commitment to innovation and aesthetics across its entire product suite. It knows that whether consumers are purchasing a vacuum, lamp, or bladeless fan, they expect top-notch performance and modern design every time.

2. Agile brands also know the value of being adaptive and aren’t afraid to adjust to new circumstances: By loosening their grip, they can better address risk and seize opportunities. For example, in 2004, Alibaba realized that its customers didn’t trust online payment and were hesitant to use Alibaba’s digital marketplace, Taobao. Responding directly to consumers’ insecurities, the company launched a transparent payment service called Alipay to convince customers to try online shopping. By 2008, Taobao commanded 80% of the Chinese e-commerce market—a massive success.

3. Today, consumers, and Millennials in particular, look for brands to behave responsibly: In one interview from our research, a Millennial noted, “I think that every brand I like and choose reflects my values and who I am.” Samsung, our top-ranked global agile brand, looks for on-brand ways to give back to the community. In 2014, it launched “Look at Me,” an educational smartphone app to help children with autism recognize facial cues and make eye contact. It then donated tablets preloaded with the app to autistic children in multiple countries.

4. Another behavior agile brands understand is openness: By encouraging consumers to provide input on products or by working with organically established consumer initiatives, brands create stronger, more trusting relationships with customers. Wikipedia takes this to an extreme, allowing users to edit the very content on its site. It’s also transparent about its funding and purpose: Individual donations have funded the information-sharing service for almost 15 years.

5. Agile brands recognize that in today’s digitally connected world, all companies are global: Local or regional nuances can mean the difference between a brand thriving or flailing. Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) recognizes that different customers and cultures have different expectations, and one uniform experience does not work for all. Its Chinese traveler enhancement program “Zhou Dao” trains IHG staff to tailor their services to Chinese etiquette and culture. It also established Hualuxe, a hotel collection targeted at Chinese travelers.

6. Finally, agile brands are multichannel: They figure out how to be in the right place at the right time. Agile brands consider the entire spectrum of channels and select and adapt their approach to each. NPR has found ways to tap into a variety of streams by considering where consumers want access to its content. Consumers can tune in to NPR via iTunes podcasts, iTunes radio broadcasts, the NPR One app, and NPR’s social channels and website. In addition, NPR found new ways to develop content, such as the partnership that resulted in its award-winning true crime podcast “Serial.”

Smart CMOs are cultivating these six behaviors in the brands they manage in ways that are tailored to their business, market, and category. It is a careful balance of focus and adaptation, with a nod to increasingly complex consumer expectations. In so doing, they are inventing a new, more successful model of brand management for a new world.