Sustainability tops the 4 themes brands must act on right now

The in-person conference season finally restarted a few weeks ago and, despite seemingly relentless tube strikes and considerable post-pandemic apathy, I've managed to get back out there and I'm really pleased I bothered.

For those who haven't been able to do the same (for the above reasons, or indeed others) I've summarised the main themes I've taken away from the events I've attended so far, as I think they represent a compelling snapshot of the post-pandemic landscape as well as a checklist for brands. It's time to act if you haven't already.

1. Customer Experience is still king

As has been the case for a while now - we need to continue our relentless quest to create convenient, engaging, personal and meaningful experiences that solve customer problems. Brands need to understand how customer expectations have changed and align the experiences they provide to match or exceed them from the practical to the emotional.

Nothing new there, but customers are more likely now than ever before to gravitate to brands that align with their values and expectations and reject those that don’t. Product price and quality are still very relevant of course but - for the first time - other aspects of the overall experience have become more important when customers make brand choices.
This can be measured and this can be addressed. If you don't know how well your brand experience is aligned to the needs and expectations of your customers - it's time to find out.

2. Sustainability is top of the list

It’s been a while since sustainability began to transition from the realms of CSR to become a central part of the product and proposition for some brands and, my goodness, it’s a very broad church indeed, from carbon emissions, plastic and water use, regenerative farming, reuse and recycling to the living wage.

There’s always been a gap between what customers say about sustainable choices and what they are actually prepared to pay a premium for, because they usually cost more. But that’s changing fast, as a large cohort of customers across all age groups and countries are adapting their behaviour and brands are finding ways to make sustainable choices more affordable.

We’re very close to a tipping point where the sustainability choices brands make and how well they communicate them will be critical to their survival. Time to understand how you're doing and act.

3. Things are going to get messy

Google coined the phrase “the messy middle” a few years ago to describe the part of the customer journey where inspiration happens and brand / product choices are made across channels and devices. It’s hard to design for and even harder to measure.

But if we thought that was messy, it’s about to get much worse. We’re about to move on from omnichannel and mobile to "commerce everywhere", with an expected growth in marketplaces, social shopping and commerce embedded in a vast range of inspiration and “intertainment” experiences from video to Metaverses. We buy stories - products are souvenirs.

A bit extreme perhaps, but it’s worth thinking about how much of this could actually happen for your brand. Is the traditional funnel dead?

4. We’re heading into choppy waters

The news isn’t good - we all know that and I don’t need to repeat why here. Customers are distressed as a consequence and expect more bad things to come. As the ancient Chinese curse says, we live in interesting times.

Customers will demand better and better value and those brands that provide it will do well. This is entirely consistent and complementary with the growing focus on sustainability - reducing waste, consuming less, reusing and reselling and other behaviours will become more mainstream. Sustainability can create better value.

But there’s better news. Customers will also be looking for avenues for escape, they will seek new and immersive experiences and engage with sources of awe. This is a great opportunity for brands to create new experiences, new types of content, new digital products and services. Time to get creative.

It's all connected

It really struck me how connected these themes are. The search for value will drive more sustainable choices and sustainable choices will become better value. The search for immersive experiences as a means of escape will present opportunities for creative expression and commerce everywhere - it means we will need to think differently about the traditional buying journey.

But most of all, it's a reminder of how central customer experience innovation will be for brands to thrive and how important it is to focus more urgently than ever on creating experiences that meet every aspect of the ever-evolving needs and expectations of customers. It requires time, it requires creative thinking and it requires investment, but it can no longer be ignored.


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