Attracting new customers? It’s about mind over matter

I gave a talk at the Business Horizons Roadshow recently: an event for CEOs and senior directors from a range of businesses across the South West. In it I explored the importance of “making friends with change”. Not just finding ways to “cope” with changes taking place in one’s industry, but actively embracing them as a tool for growth.

It distilled a few thoughts I’ve been having recently on the best ways to future-proof one’s company: what I call 3C Vision.

I believe that the winning businesses of tomorrow will be the ones that can successfully predict changing customer attitudes and needs.


New needs

People – consumers, citizens or employees – are driven by needs. Some needs are basic and unchanging: food, shelter, love. But our minds are full of other, more complex needs. And these ebb and flow depending on environmental influences: from the financial situation to the availability of new technologies. Predicting which of these will be most important and creating appropriate strategies is a powerful driver of growth.

People often describe new technologies as being ‘disruptive’. And for some parts of the enterprise they can be. They can speed up processes and improve communications, driving savings across manufacture, distribution and supply.

But not when it comes to the customer-facing, marketing and sales aspects of business. Because changes in technology per se don’t make a customer take out their credit card, or demand greater convenience or CSR.

What they do, though, is change consumer’s mental attitudes. They create new needs and expectations. These are the changes that really disrupt industries: altering the decision process, the purchase journey, sometimes entire revenue models. The mobile phone drove a greater expectation of convenience among consumer. Digital technology created a demand for ‘access-ship’.

The same is true of other environmental influences, such as financial, social or political changes. The increasing volatility of the global economy hasn’t stopped people investing in big ticket items, but it’s changed their attitude towards such purchases, and in fact the whole idea of purchasing versus ‘accessing’.

President Trump offers another great example. He didn’t force Middle Americans to buy US products, but he’s encouraged their patriotism through rhetoric and emotional appeal, and that has changed the attitudes of many of them towards imported products.  

The most disruptive piece of technology around right now? It’s your customer’s mind.

Accurately predicting how your customers’ mind will change – its new attitudes and needs – will make the difference between growth and contraction in tomorrow’s enterprise.

So that’s the theory. How about the practice? How are needs and expectations changing? And how can companies take advantage of them?

My research over the last two years has identified three key needs that I believe will drive most consumer behaviour over the next 5-10 years. They are Control, Comfort and Community.


Creating Control

Many of the factors impacting consumers’ lives are sliding out of their control. More problems are global, so even voting in the ‘right’ national government doesn’t guarantee a solution: from terrorism to global warming, financial crashes to nuclearisation. Meanwhile, many consumers have lost faith in institutions and ‘experts’ to solve even the most simple, traditional problems. As a result, individuals will increasingly search for things in their lives that they can control: from their health, finances, education and career to all elements of the purchase journey. And technological innovations are enabling them to do so more easily.


Seeking Comfort

The above issues, alongside increasing volatility across sectors – from new technology to financial markets – is making consumers increasingly anxious. As a result, individuals will seek comfort. Meanwhile, technological innovations are accelerating expectations of convenience. Time saving, service and stress-free experiences will become greater purchase drivers. They’ll look for ways to escape: from their anxieties, from ‘reality’, from the ‘modern world’ as a whole.


Care for the Community

‘Vertical’ distrust – increasing lack of trust in institutions, experts, professionals and brands – will leave a trust vacuum, likely to be filled by horizontal – or peer – trust. Faced with the volatility discussed above consumers will increasingly look for the support of their core community or ‘framily’: friends, family, neighbours and so on. Technology will have both a positive and negative impact. The growing impact of globalism and technology is also increasing feelings of ‘de-humanisation’, encouraging individuals to seek out more ‘people like me’. While digital and Social technology will enable easier communal communication.


The way forward

Leaders and teams working on future strategy will need to address these new needs regardless of the organisation or consumer base. Unfortunately there are nosimple solutions, but there are some great opportunities..

I’d focus on  positive ways to enable and empower customers, and ceding more control to them. If organisations can save their customers time and effort; if they can facilitate communities, or help them feel part of a trusted, reciprocal brand ‘family’, that’s a great start. With the right approach, companies will avoid most of the negatives of disruption and reap the many benefits. They’ll make friends and influence profits.

Want to ensure future growth? It’s the mind that matters.