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Business to Consumer (B2C)

Marketers vs Consumer Expectations


Marketers vs Consumer Expectations

As a consumer I love Pret A Manger. Yesterday, however, I was unimpressed with its sushi, despite the fact it has been my favorite lunch choice for the past few years. Has Pret dropped its guard? Is it poised for a descent into bankruptcy?

Probably not. On reflection my disappointment was caused by a more subtle marketing phenomenon: there are two sides to satisfaction.

The first is, of course, the quality of the product or service being marketed. The second is the level of quality the consumer expects. When the former exceeds the latter we win a crucial marketing battle.

As marketers we are continually reminded that we must exceed expectations.

We are rarely warned, however, that these expectations are fluid and forever changing. In my case, I have spent the past month working for a client in Sweden, where the sushi is simply fantastic. Pret had maintained the excellent quality of its food. I, on the other hand, had raised my expectation. Indeed, Pret may well have improved the quality and taste of its Sushi significantly in my absence. I would still have been disappointed. In the world of satisfaction, customer-based perception will always supersede product-based objectivity.

It is a difficult lesson for most organizations to accept. A US bank once spent $1.6m halving the amount of time that its customers had to spend in line waiting for a bank teller. With waiting time reduced to under two minutes, the bank anticipated an enormous leap in customer satisfaction and were depressed to discover no such increase in their next satisfaction survey. Research later explained that customers expected to wait between one and four minutes for a teller. It needed to exceed expectations, not just improve the bank’s existing performance.

Customer expectations are notoriously slippery. They often temporarily change.

When a consumer is waiting to pay for her paper at WH Smith in Lancaster she has a completely different level of expectation than when she is buying it from WH Smith at Manchester Airport and is late for her plane to Madrid. On a more long-term basis a competitor’s tactics can quickly influence the expectations of a target market. Most economy airline passengers were happy with a single movie choice on long-haul flights until Virgin started offering a selection of movies. Suddenly one movie was not good enough.

What can marketers do in the face of such capricious consumers? First, avoid the product-oriented trap of viewing internal incremental improvements as victories. Start with an understanding of what customers expect and center your strategy around exceeding it.

Second, don’t get cocky. A good marketer is a nervous marketer because they realize that a satisfied customer only represents a temporary victory.

Third, keep busy. Last year’s market research revealed historical data on customer needs and it grows more irrelevant by the day. Be one of the few firms that conduct year-round research.

Satisfied with my blog post? What will you expect from the next one?

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Gabriel Rossi on February 09th, 2009 said


In today’s world it is nearly impossible to remain differentiated only by functional elements for a long time.

We all know products come and go and consumers are fickle. It’s vital to take functional differences ‘up the ladder’ by adding emotional connections to consumers, connecting with them in a deeper level by showing signs of empathy and personality.

The mixture of logic and intuition varies by category, but it is safe to say that most companies would be smart to use more emotional elements. Even P&G recognized this necessity by showing its consumers that the brand understood the frustrations behind dishwashing (Dawn case study as Allen Adamson highlights in ‘Brand Digital’).

Great article.


Gabriel Rossi- Brazil

mark ritson on June 22nd, 2009 said

Great point Gabriel – and I agree.

But check out Barwise and Meehan superb book – Simply Better – which lays out exactly the opposite argument – very persuasively too.

They argue different is over rated, just be better at stuff….

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