I once heard a speaker at a marketing conference tell a story about changing travel expectations. He explained that as a kid he would travel with his family and whenever they checked into a hotel, his mother would go into the bathroom to ensure that a strip of adhesive paper had been put over the toilet seat indicating that it had been cleaned prior to their arrival. That was how she determined the quality of a hotel. He went on to say that these days room cleanliness is just assumed as a standard and the things that set hotels apart are the special amenities like free breakfast, wifi, hot tubs, spacious gyms, concierge services, etc. These features are what makes a hotel’s reputation and brings in business. In this case more supply has led to a need for greater differentiation, causing hotels to go to great lengths to top one another. But this is certainly not the only example of changing consumer expectations – in every industry expectations continue to evolve over time.
So what does this mean for your business?
Regardless of industry, consumers now expect companies to provide real-time support, offer transparency, and use ethical practices. They want to see companies on social media promoting their brand voice and offering exceptional customer service.
Just having a phone number or email address isn’t enough anymore – you need to offer many different options for getting ahold of your business in case a potential customer or existing customer wants to get in touch with you. This is one place where social media comes into play. Having a strong social presence that is actively maintained is really important. (In fact, not having a social presence is worse than having social media pages that go dormant for long stretches or have been entirely abandoned.)
With so much choice these days between local and online businesses people want to support businesses that they like and believe in. Having a fun and entertaining brand voice can make your company more likeable and earn you more business. The same is true of businesses that stand behind a cause or promote a popular agenda. Illustrating that your business cares about consumers, the local community, or the world and isn’t just in it to make money can be very lucrative!
With consumer expectations so high, your business needs to respond by being where your audience is and delivering the experience they’re looking for. This means that using the old excuse of “we’ve always done it this way” or “this has worked for us in the past” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Consumer expectations will never stop evolving, which means that you have to be open to changing the way you do things and what you can offer your target audience. This may mean going social, re-writing your mission statement, changing your product line-up, putting more of an emphasis on giving back, modifying employee offerings, etc. But whatever form this change takes with your business, just know that you need to continue to be open to trying new things to cater to consumers as the market changes.
Local businesses sometimes assume that word of mouth is all the marketing they need and that offering a great product/service will carry their business, which means that they tend to be the last ones to jump on the bandwagon as consumer expectations change. This is why some local businesses still don’t even have websites (especially local service providers and restaurants)! But local businesses aren’t immune from the effects of an expectation shift – just ask the ones that have closed their doors already due to lack of business. The reason for this is because almost all consumers transact with both local and national businesses, which means that their frame of reference is affected by all of those interactions. So when it comes to your local business, just know that you may be located in one particular community, but you’re still essentially competing with businesses across the entire nation.
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Web Consulting for small businesses, Copywriting and Local Online Marketing. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and enjoys cooking, watching sports and spending time outdoors. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about marketing theory and SEM trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!