Channeling liquid expectations

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How marketers can deal with disruptors

This article originally appeared in the Economist in May, 2015 and was subsequently named a ‘best of 2015’ article by the Economist editors.

Written by:

Baiju Shah Managing Director for Strategy and Innovation, Accenture Interactive and Global Co-Lead, Fjord @baijushah

John Greene Chief Strategy Officer & Senior Partner, Translation @JSG

As described in our previous post, customer experiences with any product category now affect how customers experience products in other categories previously thought to be unrelated. We called this development “liquid expectations.” These pose a larger acute competitive threat to remaining relevant than many marketers have yet realized.

The growing gap between what’s being delivered and consumers’ ever evolving expectations creates what we call the expectation chasm. This chasm can make marketers feel increasingly out of control, but it is also where some of the richest innovation opportunities lie to scale customer engagement and growth beyond boundaries once thought to be unbreakable.

The first step is to rethink competition from the outside in. When you fundamentally look at your business from the eyes of customers, you can identify the role your brand plays in peoples’ lives, instead of the space that you occupy in a store or on a smart phone. This understanding frees you to think about how your business can grow beyond its traditional boundaries.

Instead of artificially limiting itself by operating as if it was in the ride-for-hire business, Uber has embraced liquid expectations and moved from “everyone’s private driver” to a business that re-invented the experience of getting from point A to point B. This shift dramatically expands the degree to which Uber can scale as a brand and a business with very little limitation to what industries they can credibly and effectively disrupt.

In the consumer packaged goods sector, the potential of reimaging through liquid expectations is starting to be realized by going directly to consumers, creating services and customer intimacy typically ascribed to retailers. Nespresso’s Zenius machine uses SIM card technology to remotely connect with Customer Relationship Centers to reorder coffee capsules. This provides proactive services that react to the machine status and coffee consumption.

Another example of how liquid expectations take hold is embodied in Blue Apron, which curates recipes based on your dietary requirements and sends hand-picked ingredients that can be made into a meal. This demonstrates how the increasingly popular subscription model is being applied, with expert curation, to a new sector creating an experiential competitor for restaurants and fresh local grocery stores.

In this age of increasingly liquid expectations, marketers who truly understand this new dynamic will be able to scale their businesses far beyond boundaries once thought to be unbreakable. And those marketers who fail to understand liquid expectations will find themselves fundamentally disrupted by competitors they never saw coming.


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