OPINION29 January 2014

Great expectations


What do consumers want from brands in 2014? InSites Consulting’s Tom De Ruyck goes in search of answers.


At the end of 2013, InSites Consulting (together with data collection partner GMI) asked 7,000 consumers in 17 countries to share their three priorities for brands in 2014.

Looking at the graph below, it is clear that consumers want companies to offer them the best possible product/service ( 35%) and a great customer service ( 20%) above everything else. And to make that happen, they want companies to actively listen to their needs and wishes ( 16%). Being innovative ( 15%), eco-friendly ( 15%) and honest ( 14%) are also greatly valued by the global consumer.

From the survey data, we compiled an index composed of 21 possible wishes that consumers in our 17 countries could have. Based on this, it’s clear that despite the global economic crisis, consumers keep on raising the bar for companies.

People in emerging economies (BRIC countries and eastern Europe) have especially high expectations. The same holds for Italy, in the south of Europe, which is under economic pressure. But consumers in Brazil, Romania and China have the highest expectations of all.

Demands are being driven by the growing middle classes in these emerging markets. They expect brands to help them improve their living conditions. But Brazilians also score the highest of all countries on reducing the impact companies have on the environment ( 32% see it as a top-three priority) and on being honest ( 22%), while China tops the list when it comes to expecting brands to be unique ( 28%). These elements show that, once the basic needs are fulfilled, other and different expectations that are locally relevant pop up.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Japan is by far the country were consumers are least exacting of brands. But it is interesting to see that in such an advanced society – in terms of technology, marketing and retail channels – ‘honesty’ scores extremely high. In Brazil, consumers want brands to keep their promises and to be honest about the ingredients they use, and quality in general. But in Japan, the concept is elevated towards an overall company value.

Emerging trends

Based on all the data we collected, we were able to define three emerging trends in consumer expectations towards brands:

  1. Customer service is less important for younger generations
    64% of Baby Boomers expect more focus on customer service in 2014, while among the youngest generation (Gen Z) this number drops to 56%. Digital natives go more for ‘self-service’ and ‘peer-to-peer help’ rather than for hands-on customer service by the brand. GiffGaff already surfs this trend: it has created a community in which customers help each other out with specific questions.
  2. Brands need to involve consumers… for real, and in the right way
    Consumers expect brands to actively involve them – but there are limits. Collaboration between consumers and brands should fuel the creation of better products/services by the company, but consumers do not want to take over the creative process themselves. Again, a generational difference is noticed: Baby Boomers, who are less used to this approach, are expecting it less. The younger generations see it more as a given. But Gen Z is rather skeptical about the concept: brands need to show that they will act upon consumer input to make the collaboration model sustainable. The study also reveals that consumers do not want full transparency (knowing everything the company does and why). Only when mistakes are being made should the company be fully open and honest.
  3. Acts, not gifts
    People around the globe value actions from brands to reduce their impact on the environment, ensuring that their products are made in ethical working conditions. Acting as a member of society scores higher than simply donating money to charities. Depending on the specific situation of the country, eco-friendliness or ethical working conditions top the list. Women value responsible corporate actions more than men do.

Tom De Ruyck is head of consumer consulting boards at InSites Consulting