As a mom of two young kids, I can't imagine a world before grocery delivery, theme park fast passes, or my Tide to Go pen. We live in an age defined by instant communication, with everything at our fingertips or just a click away. Customers can make purchases and get loyalty rewards almost anytime, anywhere. However, instantly gratifying consumer experiences are no longer enough for brands looking to rise above the competition.
The booming subscription economy indicates the importance of convenience, and recent data shows that consumers increasingly want to be rewarded for their loyalty beyond just making a purchase. Take these trends together and the writing is on the wall: Instant gratification culture is on its way out, to be replaced by constant gratification.
Brands today must prioritize experiences with their consumers that meet ongoing needs and make life more enjoyable. This isn't to say that marketers need to devise a "constant gratification" strategy. Meeting consumer expectations along these lines is a mind-set shift that touches all aspects of the marketing department. Instead, marketers should take a holistic approach and focus on building experiences, maintaining authenticity across interactions, and knowing when to look outside the organization for inspiration.
It's no secret that consumers have endless choices when it comes to which brands they favor, and when all else is fairly equal, the brands that will earn loyalty are those that create experiences to make consumers' lives easier.
The retail and e-commerce industries are leading the charge in this arena: there are subscription services for everything from groceries to apparel to pet treats and books. We're even seeing auto giants like Ford, Volvo, Cadillac and Porsche offering subscription programs as an alternative to buying and leasing cars. Ultimately, subscription models add greater flexibility to the consumer experience and take their specific needs into consideration. For instance, I love the idea of having access to an SUV for a weekend trip with my family and then driving an energy-efficient vehicle for commuting to work during the week.
Starbucks has also successfully given constant gratification a go. Within its mobile app, coffee-lovers can place an order for pickup, complete a purchase, and earn stars. The app is simple and intuitive, and puts the consumer first, letting patrons skip lines and appease their caffeine cravings. Across industries, consumers are prioritizing experiences that add utility to everyday activity. Though diverse in functionality, the above examples demonstrate how brands can enhance consumers' lifestyles, removing friction while bolstering loyalty with every interaction.
Stay on Brand
When engaging with consumers, it's essential for a brand to maintain a sense of timeliness while simultaneously maintaining authenticity and relevance. Whether responding to a positive tweet around a brand experience or sending out a timely offer, brands should establish a thoughtful cadence of communication and present consumers with immediate value. For example, a brand looking to boost affinity might consider granting loyal customers early access to a new product release or hyperpersonalizing emails, catering to shoppers' specific interests and behaviors.
Balancing predictability with surprise-and-delight elements can also keep things fresh while maintaining brand identity. What's more, understanding whether someone is motivated by convenience, price or the opportunity to earn rewards can inform how to best approach each interaction. Giving consumers an element of choice when it comes to how they interact with brands is an excellent way to start. Putting the consumer in the driver's seat not only gives them autonomy to select the most individually gratifying experience, but further builds brand affinity.
Think Outside Your Organization
"Gratification" has evolved beyond just providing rewards and prizes to include convenience, recognition and the ability for brands to continuously satiate consumers' desires. But whenever a brand elevates an experience, consumer expectations across all brands increase. Just as I often find with my two toddlers, it can be daunting to keep up with individual demands and provide fresh, personalized experiences that aren't repetitive. In this situation, marketers need to think outside their organization and create an ecosystem of like-minded brands that together can provide a 360-degree consumer experience.
The subscription economy is ripe for highly valuable partnerships. If consumers today find individual meal kit and wardrobe on-demand services convenient, imagine if these companies worked together to create initiatives that unified the cooking, cleaning and shopping for a household? Sounds like a dream come true. Outside of subscriptions, the travel and hospitality industry does this well. Delta, for example, works with Lyft and Starwood to make getting to the airport and lodging during your trip both simple and rewarding. Partnerships like this open new opportunities for brands to provide tailored experiences and meet individual demands at scale.
The shift towards a constant gratification culture shouldn't come as a surprise. It's the logical next step as consumers are empowered by choice and inundated with instantly gratifying brand experiences. Rather than be intimidated, brands should look at every consumer interaction as an opportunity to establish deeper emotional connections with individual consumers that will ultimately build brand affinity and loyalty.