We are in a new era of human evolution. I coined the phrase ‘digital centaurs‘ at a conference presentation last year – a reference to many of us being half in the real world and half in the digital dimension. Osteopaths and chiropractors alike have predicted that neck and back problems due to ‘mobile craning’ will rise exponentially in the coming decade.
Brands have drooled at the amount of time consumers spend in the mobile space and invested over a quarter of their annual budgets on mobile interfaces. This huge investment is based, in part, upon the ‘assumption’ that a consumer’s digital alter-ego is online simply because they want quick experiences and instantaneous gratification.
This is an unsurprising supposition given that mobile experience enables immediate booking, browsing, comparing and social media ‘showing off’ experiences. Easy, and frictionless are common terms that seem to be driving this investment. Every brand sees mobile as a worthwhile battlefield to fight their consumer war over – each striving to be the champion of smoother and quicker customer experience.
It sounds a perfectly sound strategy – to be the best frictionless brand. However, from a consumer psychological perspective, the race to all be quick and easy throws up some rather potential nasty and damaging ‘brand experience’ problems.
Potential Problem 1: Does everyone REALLY want ‘frictionless’ with EVERYTHING
Brands have been falling over themselves to build quick and instant mobile experiences to please consumers.
There has also been the assumption that ‘instant’ works well to draw in customers. Yet is this true?
What do you value more? Something you have had to earn or something you get for free?
There is a stack of psychological studies that demonstrate that time and effort investment equates to greater associations of value. In one study for example passers by were stopped and asked if they would spare 10 minutes to take part in a survey. Half of those stopped were given a pen regardless of whether they agreed to do the survey or not – the other half were given the pen IF they completed the survey. All the people who were given a pen where then subsequently approached by a ‘hidden’ member of the research team. This ‘stooge’ asked what had happened, how they felt about it and what they had received in the process. The stooge then asked if they could buy the pen. Most of the people who had just been given the pen without investing their time in the 10 minute survey offered to give the pen away for free. Those that had earned the pen – valued it more and most refused to even sell it! Just as interesting was the finding that the people who had ‘earned’ the pen rated the people who had conducted the survey as significantly more ‘nicer’, ‘friendlier’ and ‘attractive’ than those who had simply been given the pen.
Psychologically spending effort also makes us associate other qualities in the investment process. Spending time on something is likely to make us judge that time investment as useful, meaningful and leading to a better experience. This is true of most people regardless of the demographic group or consumer segment they are assigned to.
Take Millennials themselves for example – the group that many brands think want the quickest and easiest brand experience. There is a big divide within this group in terms of how they find, buy and listen to music. The generation that is accounting for the biggest sales in vinyl records – is, yes you’ve guessed it, Millennials. Searching record stores and charity shops for vinyl records is neither easy, frictionless nor does it offer instant gratification – but it does offer a great experience (in terms of satisfaction, anticipation and emotions).
Potential Problem 2: Underlying needs and values can jar with ‘quick and easy’
Apart from demographics, other psychological factors that might muddy the waters of ease are customers’ non conscious needs and drives. For example, a person who has an inherent high need of control and safety might be reluctant to use a service that seems too easy and might prefer the traditional, longer route as it seems safer. Research we have conducted for numerous clients in the Financial Services industry research has demonstrated encouraging quick and easy digital money transfer can actually promote anxiety and insecurity among its customers and erode trust. Making this process slightly less quick has enabled them to reign in this negative experience. They usually display higher brand loyalty have more disposable income available and might be overlooked by businesses in the frictionless race.
Our work in the travel sector to points to the opposite of ‘quick and easy’. We have found for numerous travel brands that whether it is the consumer with ego’s to massage, or risks to manage or peer groups to stay included in – quick and easy isn’t what they want in terms of holiday searching. In fact it is the exact opposite – they want to prolong the searching and in doing so the anticipation and excitement that accompanies looking at hotels, beaches and sites from around the globe. Holiday choosers want to spend time fireproofing their choices against the criticism of others or trawling through complex and varied information to demonstrate their intellect. They might want a quick and easy ‘buying’ system ONCE they have made up their mind but they do not want to be hurried in the searching process – as this is all part of the holiday!
On the other side of the spectrum, people with a high need of excitement and adventure might appreciate and engage more with a seamless, frictionless product but at the expense of brand loyalty – as they are permanently hunting for novelty. Quick and easy merely lets them enjoy a quick fix before moving on to the next one.
Potential Problem 3. How do brands stand out if all experience is the same?
We know from consumer research in relation to travel, finance, health, retail and food that brand/product differentiation can be important in making something stand out above the crowd. Lets assume that all brands will reach this mobile frictionless nirvana. What then? Easy and instant have now become the norm. How will mobile consumers now differentiate if everything they interact with offers the same quick rewards?
Psychologically we always need to look for points of distinction/difference – that’s how our brain establishes meaningful comparisons. Difference enables our brains to identify risk and gain. If we now cannot differentiate brands on easyness of instantaneous gratification our brains will start to search for other areas of the brand experience to evaluate and compare for us to ‘make the best consumer choice’.
This for some brands should be a concern – what other areas of your mobile/digital experience that you might not be doing so well will now fall ever more under the glare of consumer scrutiny?
Potential Problem 4: Does instant gratification undermine customer loyalty/commitment to you?
Easy and frictionless experiences might well offer immediate reward – but how does that instant feeling feed into longer term brand relationships, trust and loyalty? Psychologically it is a fleeting reward for us to get something quickly and effortlessly. As a result of not actually investing much effort in anything the experience is quickly forgotten by the consumer. The more we invest effort and time (up to a critical point) the more we value something and the better it makes us feel longer term.
There have been scientific studies that have demonstrated that people who have had to wait for a bus to arrive a little longer than they expected, actually rated their bus journey as being more satisfying and positive than the people who rode on the buses that came on time or early! The same effects are shown for consumers attending amusement parks. Consumers waiting in a line for something usually don’t know what the end experience will be. Afterwards, participants were asked to rate which ride was more exciting and what they liked most about what they spent their money on. For most people, the study revealed, the attraction that had the longest waiting time was ranked as the most exciting.
So my point is it is all very dandy having a frictionless brand experience – but what else is the brand doing from a mobile/digital perspective to keep that relationship alive rather than creating a ‘wham bam thank you maam’ fleeting moment.
For us to want to form and maintain a relationship with something we have to invest something towards it – attention, effort, emotions etc over a period of time. Our brains actually value effort – just like money – time is a powerful currency. Why is it we tend to get much more upset when long term relationships end than shorter ones? Partly we cry at all the time investment we’ve lost!
So, while consumers might ‘say’ they want easy, frictionless experiences, we would argue that psychologically, they probably don’t really mean that at a non-conscious level. There is no value in being given something easily. The brain feels valueless. It feels best about itself (and we ourselves) when it has to make some effort – and it certainly values the experiences when it does so more than when things are handed to it on plate.
All in all, this suggests time is an elastic concept for consumers. There is no fun in not stretching a rubber band – but brands have to find out where the point of snapping occurs for them. Somewhere in between those two points is where value dwells. Brands need help in determining just how ‘easy’ they should be!