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Generation impatient: How brands can keep consumers happy when they want everything now

Members of the IPA's Brand Technology Group provide an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies.

We've all been there...

Allow me to set my stall out early: I’m not a massive fan of Janet Street-Porter. To be fair, this opinion was formed in a split second, when I saw her in a programme about the creation of the (ill-fated) L!VE TV station in the 90s. (Street-Porter was MD.) In one behind-the-scenes incident, the technical director was trying to explain why live ticker-tape screens weren’t working. Street-Porter impatiently cut him off: “Oh, I don’t care HOW IT WORKS, just make it ****ING WORK!”

Some two decades on, I see a worrying trend in that we’ve all got a lot more ‘JSP’. A recent survey of more than 2,000 people commissioned by Interparcel identified us as ‘Generation Impatient’ – with one in two Brits claiming they have become ‘much more impatient over the last five years’, and a third owning to have ‘no patience at all’.

Other stats of interest are: the limits of patience waiting for a web page or link to load, at just 10 seconds; video buffering, at 16 seconds; and being on hold on a customer helpline, at eight minutes. A spokesman for the same survey concluded: “Even in our personal lives, we expect quicker responses and regular contact. The internet means we expect more from businesses and services we use.”

This growing tide of impatience – not restricted to our own shores –­ has significant and growing implications for the (increasingly technological) interface between people and brands; this is the sharp end of live brand experience. Crucially, customers do not differentiate between the channel, the technology and the brand – that is purely a communications conceit. For many, the interface is the brand.

In their recent IPA seminar, Behavioural Economics in Action, Rory Sutherland and Nick Southgate suggested two dominant rules for modern communications:

  1. Context counts
  2. Small things can have big effects

These rules have been proven time and again in terms of brands and interface. Perhaps the biggest cautionary tale is the story of ‘the $300m-dollar button’: a certain online retailer (thought to be Amazon) had told people they were required to register before they checked out. When, however, the ‘Register’ button was simply replaced with ‘Continue’ – and a message was added to say that registering was not required to check out, the retailer’s sales went up by 45 per cent YOY, to $300m. Small thing, big effect.

We see this every day with other brands, where the tiniest obstacle or, conversely, a frictionless experience, has a profound and disproportionate impact on how people feel about the brand. This is never truer than in the context of key verticals such as finance and telcos.

Banks’ second-factor authentication (where the PIN was generated by a mini calculator) seemed to be the bane of colleagues’ lives, judging by innumerable all-staff emails I’ve seen. Security-driven or not, this always seemed a poor ad for convenience in the age of smartphones.

Conversely, people who used to be indifferent to NatWest now go out of their way to tell you how amazing the bank’s mobile app is; how they can use fingerprint access, pay friends via text and get cash without using their debit card. This is bringing the ‘helpful bank’ brand promise to life in genuine lived experience. Perhaps that old marketer’s mnemonic ‘AIDA’ should be rewritten with the ‘I’ now standing for Interface.

So, what other considerations should agencies and brands apply to tech in the tinderbox environment of current customer sentiment?

  • Conceptually reframe the context in which you operate – given the impatience of modern customers, it’s essential to help them flow. For example our client, Motors.co.uk’s ‘smart search’, allows lifestyle-driven, simultaneous multi-marque queries on the site.
  • Planning with tech teams and with interface consideration right at the heart of agency and brand processes is key. Tech with a poor UX is worse than no tech at all.
  • If you are setting up a brand desk in a channel, then it had better be manned – it is still not uncommon to find people ranting in caps on some brands’ Twitter feeds: “IS ANYONE THERE!?”
  • Ask how tech can empower your brand to connect people to what’s important to them – mobile network Three’s Feel at Home service, with free data roaming to selected countries abroad, and EE’s ‘Power Band’ rechargeable battery pack, which can be swapped in stores for a fully charged one, are both genius initiatives
  • Remove stress points for people – if you remember things for me then I like your brand more. Interflora recently sent me a simple email: “Dan, don’t forget your Mum’s birthday!” (My Mum is a fan of the brand)

Perhaps Janet Street-Porter was an early symptom of the impatience that goes hand-in-hand with the Information Age. It’s a fact that sweating the small stuff in advance – and getting the tech right, accordingly, lies at the heart of current and future brand value.

In the context of today’s digital lives and fleeting multi-channel interactions (increasingly measured in session times of mere seconds) it seems we care less about the brand promise or storytelling. Just like JSP, we simply expect things to ****ing work.

Dan Machen is director of innovation at Brave and member of the IPA’s Brand Technology Group.

The IPA Brand Technology Group is exploring the impact technology has on the consumer experience. It aims to bring together the best agencies and brands to provide a single point of view and leadership on key challenges for the communications industry and the wider technology community.