How brands can earn ‘share-of-life’

The biggest threat to brands today is irrelevance. Brands are no longer competing for share-of-wallet. Rather, they’re competing for share-of-life. The most well-known and successful brands have integrated themselves into consumers’ lives in an authentic way, adding true value. They put their customers’ needs at the forefront and view them as people, not transactions.

Based on countless conversations I’ve had with clients over the years wanting to know, “How can we forge strong relationships with our customers?” here are some key questions businesses need to ask themselves on their journey to relevance and customer-centricity.

Question 1: What problem are we trying to solve?

Continuous innovation is key to maintaining relevance in a world where consumer expectations continually evolve. However, before investing time and money, businesses should ask themselves: “What problem are we trying to solve?” “Is this something our customers need?” “How will it improve their lives?”

The most pressing question today is, “How do we adapt to a post-COVID world?” Brands that quickly innovate and solve for this will likely win in the future. As we navigate through the pandemic, consumers are placing a higher premium on brands that provide quality goods and services while prioritizing health and safety.

Many brands have already adjusted their businesses. For example, UberEats and DoorDash were able to swiftly respond to an uptick in demand with contactless delivery. For physical stores, major retailers including Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Kohl’s now require customers to wear masks, prioritizing this practice because they value customer safety and understand these measures are expected.

Question 2: Who are we?

Businesses can lose sight of their mission over time if they expand without a definitive purpose. Mission-focused businesses understand the difference between the industry they operate in and the reason why they’re doing business in the first place.

Take Patagonia, for example, an established company that streamlined its previous mission of “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire, and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” to “We’re in business to save our home planet.” This succinctly captures the company’s continuing commitment to environmental stewardship.

Companies like Patagonia that are firmly committed to addressing customer needs and expectations outlast trends and become timeless. A purpose should be designed to create value through experiences and improve the lives of customers, positioning a brand for success.

Question 3: Are we designing experiences of value?

Many brands fail to differentiate. This “design sameness” leads to experience fatigue. To avoid this pitfall and deliver the most value, brands must consider customer expectations both in their particular industry and beyond. Expectations can be influenced by unrelated industries. For example, Amazon normalized two-day and same-day delivery, leading consumers to expect this from other companies as well, regardless of sector. Businesses must take note of these shifts to stay relevant.

Successful businesses have found ways to integrate themselves into daily lives while maintaining relevance and trust. Apple managed to master this by transcending industries and evolving with customer needs. Personally, Apple has become a central part of my life. I FaceTime with my kids regularly when traveling, watch the news and shows on my iPad, and end my day checking my steps on my Apple Watch. The company consistently delivers transcendent, valuable user experiences to the point that it has established a high level of trust for both investors and consumers, who buy into new offerings even before sampling.

Question 4: Do our actions speak to the values of our customers?

Gen Z and Millennials pay close attention to companies that demonstrate a commitment to serving their communities and are steadfast about supporting them. Connecting with today’s and tomorrow’s key customer age demographics through acting on shared values will cut through the noise. Companies that are brave enough to consistently do what’s right – both internally and externally – don’t have to publicize themselves either. Their customers and employees will be their biggest brand ambassadors, spreading the word because they’re happy to.

For example, recent turmoil over systemic racism spurred businesses to prioritize humanity. Brands like Ben and Jerry’s continued to break the mold of traditionally formal brand-customer relationships by speaking out, prompting a flurry of similar actions by others worldwide. What became clear is Gen Z and Millennials don’t separate products from experiences. If brands want to continue being a consistent part of their lives, they need to think, act, and create products and services that are value-aligned with their customers.

The age of only relying on storytelling for brand success is over. Companies that stay true to their purpose while adapting and satisfying the consumer experience will thrive. Relevancy will come easier for those mindful of hyperconnectivity. Trends come and go; brands that innovate with purpose at heart and experience in mind will transcend time and industry and take a share of our lives.