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I was speaking at a conference just two weeks ago and was followed by an eloquent, engaging former CMO from a major brand who made the bold statement, “Earnings talk and bull**** walks.”
She said it to underscore a specific point, but I find that old trope all too pervasive in most every marketing and business discussion. I get that you can’t grow a business on hugs and high fives. And I’m keenly aware that the hardest thing to do is to get a customer to reach for their wallet and pull out their credit card (or “submit their purchase order,” for our B2B friends). However, this all-encompassing focus on transactional growth has caused most brands and their respective managers to breeze past a simple fact: For most consumers, it’s no longer about money. Time has replaced money as the key determinant in the overall relationship between consumers and brands. Follow me here…
At T3 we focus on building Useful Brands™. These are the brands that earn a place in the customer’s daily life through effort, delivery and proven knowledge of what they need beyond products and services. Being a Useful Brand isn’t just lip service; it’s rooted in economic history and theory.
Microeconomics, for example, offers us the “utility maximization problem.” Simply put, the utility maximization problem is the problem consumers face when they decide how to spend their money in order to maximize their utility. Economists call this a type of “optimal decision” problem which essentially means that, when all things are equal, a person will choose an outcome that offers the most utility.
What most brands miss is how time has replaced money in this equation. Consumers are asked to spend their time exponentially more than their money. As a result, consumers have begun to think of their time as a precious resource that should be guarded, respected, and applied intelligently.
At T3, we’ve found through our research that most brands send signals that consumers pick up on to quickly gauge whether or not the brand is likely to waste their time. Poor or inefficient online platforms, impersonal social or site content, and unresponsive mobile sites are just a handful of potential signals consumers look out for to determine if you are likely to waste their time.
We’ve created a three-part rule all brands should follow to satisfy a consumer’s initial take on how useful they are.
Respect: Do you or will you respect my time? This will be sized up in context to the specific relationship, whether it be retail, healthcare (sitting rooms and long needless lines are an example) or travel and hospitality.
Enhance: Once a brand has clearly demonstrated it can execute at a base interactional level, it will be called upon to overdeliver in the time equation. This can be driven by experiences such as personalized rewards, insightful and share-worthy social content, or even reversals of what would normally be negative experiences.
Case in point: I recently switched to Spectrum from AT&T and was having technical difficulties the first week. Based on past experience, I felt a sense of dread thinking about waiting on a long hold to schedule a time for someone to come out. I felt a rush of elation when I found out I was able to resolve all of it in five minutes on their technical chat support.
Reward: As brands migrate along the time continuum proving the ability to deliver in the first two phases, the brand will ultimately earn the ability to make time rewarding. This can come in the form of moments of surprise and delight, CRM innovation, or even just a good old fashioned loyalty and rewards system.
It’s important to understand that most brands fail in their ability to see these need-states as a sequence. Brands that can’t first prove they are able to respect a consumer’s time will not be given credit when they attempt to enhance or reward a consumer’s time. Executing along the time-based customer value chain is the key to success in modern brand relationships.
James Lanyon is the director of strategy and innovation at T3.