By Robert Passikoff, Ph.D.
We speak to a lot of consumers about many of categories and brands and generally they express a kind of top-of-mind opinion that the technology brands, by creating the innovation in the first place, create consumer desire for technological innovation. OK, a little bit circular, but the truth is that’s only partially true.
Consumers have expectations about everything, maybe especially technology these days, but most aren’t thinking bout the creation of the technology itself. They’re thinking about what they want – what’s out there that will provide them with what they expect. In most traditional research those expectations don’t show up with a big red arrow labeled, “MAKE ME THIS!” More often than not, real consumer expectations are unarticulated and emotional and you’ve got to do some real drill-down and hard thinking to figure it out.
Looking at the category engagement drivers can help. They identify how consumers view the category and compare offerings in that category, and through those drivers consumer needs and desires and expectations are defined in the context of the category. Then technology takes over. Steve Jobs gets full marks for introducing the iPod, but it was the consumer’s high level of expectations for a portable music device of elegant, organic design that made it so successful.
At rough count about 4 billion people have mobile phones and most of those have cameras built into them. Nowadays it’s hard to find a mobile phone that doesn’t have a camera in it. It wasn’t always that way, of course. The first mobile phones were, well, mobile and phones. People were pretty delighted to be able to make calls without having to use landlines at home or office, or dimes in payphones. Manufacturers raced to do what they could to differentiate offerings, but most of that had to do with form – basic size (back then, smaller were deemed more desirable, but that’s not the case anymore given how tablets have affected the category and consumers. Take a look at the aptly named, 6.3” screen on the Samsung Galaxy Mega), what the phone looked like, (it came in black, white, or gray), whether it flipped open, where the buttons were located, Stuff like that. And sure, it was the manufacturer who had the chips that could add a camera to the phone, but in actuality it was the consumers – more accurately, it was the consumers’ expectations that pointed the way to the addition of a camera. Here’s how:
Every category has its own set of engagement drivers. Today, these drivers end up being more emotional than rational in structure, which is why, when correctly configured, marketers are able to predict how consumers will behave. If you measure the drivers correctly, they also identify expectation levels consumers hold for them. Brands that are able to better meet the consumers’ expectations held for the category drivers do better than those that don’t. Always. And yes, expectations – particularly for the Ideal in a category – are high, usually much higher than brands can keep up, but that’s a good thing because if a brand pays attention to where expectations are or where they have risen significantly and are unfulfilled by players in the category, it’s like having a big, red arrow point out something that consumers are looking for and something brands should attend to.
And that’s what happened as regards to cameras being added to the mobile phones. Expectations for the mobile phone engagement driver, “Connectivity,” went through the roof. Now, if you viewed that upsurge from an entirely rational perspective (which is what most brands did at the time), their first notion had to do with figuring out how to achieve faster circuits or connections so calls would go through faster, thus providing better “connectivity.” Q.E.D.
As it turned out, consumers’ increase in expectations for connectivity was an emotional signal – a desire for more personal and more intimate connectivity. Those wacky consumers! What will they want next? And while it seems intuitively obvious now, the answer lay not in the verbal space, but in the visual realm – photographs. Think back. Wouldn’t it have been really cool to take a photograph with your phone and send it to someone right when you took it? To connect visually? Wouldn’t that be a lot better than just speech or even a text? Think about trying to describe the sunset on the Serengeti? Don’t they say a picture’s worth a 1,000 nationwide airtime minutes, and comes with a whole lot of emotional satisfaction? How are your expectations feeling now?
Turns out, probably pretty good. Sanyo was the first cellphone brand to add a camera but, alas, the tech engineering process moves really quickly and once one brand does something “innovative,” competitors do it too. Literally days later phones re-configured as “camera phones” showed up in the marketplace. And so it went, but here’s where it gets tricky, very rational, and present day.
“Rational” is good when all a brand is dealing with is making something better than the competition. But given brands’ production capabilities, what delights consumers emotionally quickly becomes table stakes. Something you need to have or your brand doesn’t get to play, i.e., compete in the category. And just like a poker game, the stakes keep rising, technology keeps getting ratcheted up, and, sometimes, category dynamics end up getting changed too. Witness phones with cameras. Or in certain cases, cameras with phones. Who could have imagined a phone that would allow you to take photographs anyplace, in virtually any light, with regular and slow motion video, and a built in flash. Or in the case of Apple, two soft light, LEDs. Not me, and not the average consumer. Maybe an actual camera, but a phone?
In just about a decade smartphones have developed technologies that outshoot, digital point-and-shoot cameras. The smartphone-as-camera has become so ubiquitous, that Brand Keys stopped measuring the digital camera category in our annual Customer Loyalty Engagement survey. Digital point-and- shoot camera sales are down nearly 50% in the first half of 2013. Who’s to blame? Well all the smartphone brands view the camera as a feature to help them differentiate themselves from one another. The new Lumia 1020 Windows Phone, for example, has a 41megapixel camera, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel camera, while the iPhone 5s sports an 8-megapixel sensor. That’s all the geeky stuff that engineers and enthusiasts pay a lot of attention to, but it provides some differentiating discussion points.
Consumers, on the other hand, their expectations, while tangential, are focused elsewhere. In this category image quality and a desire for ultra-high sharpness with the ability to zoom and crop without the picture looking pixelated, and have functionalities they don’t have to look up in a manual that’s larger than the camera, I mean, smartphone itself. The new Nokia Lumia 1020 comes with apps that provide advanced setting for ISO, exposure, and white balance, and can take 10 photos in under 3 seconds. And has a sensor that’s 0.42 inches diagonally (a dedicated point-and-shoot camera’s is about 0.3 inches, which may partially explain their drop in sales).
One other interesting element: when the ad introducing the new Lumia model first ran, consumers thought it was an ad for a new camera. . . that had mobile phone capabilities too. Perhaps that’s the next thing consumers will expect. Keeping an eye on those category drivers and expectations provides a category view through the lens of the consumer and done correctly can provide a brands with a high-density, view of the category before its completely developed.
Remember when your expectations were met knowing you could collect your e-mail, send a text message, or surf the Internet? Not anymore. Not ever again.