Of course, consumers have always been boss for accomplished brand builders and expert marketers, but over the last 15 or 20 years, two converging forces have tipped the scale even more decisively in consumers' favor.
The first force has been the explosion of choice. Consumers have exponentially more brands, products and services to choose from. They have grown accustomed to a wide range of brand choices, a steady stream of product innovation, consistently high quality, reliably strong performance and excellent everyday value. They have even grown accustomed to having products and services tailored to individual needs. In short, consumers have grown accustomed to having it their way, and they like the power of choice they now exercise every day.
The second force has been the explosion of media. There has been a remarkable proliferation of cable and broadcast TV channels, satellite and broadcast radio, the Internet, ever-more-targeted print-not to mention "non-advertising" media such as digital video recorders, videogames and DVDs. Every one of these media and media-delivery devices competes for consumers' time and attention.
As a result of just these two changes, consumers have become more demanding. They expect more from the brands they buy and use every day. They expect branded manufacturers to listen to them more carefully, and to learn from them more often. They expect us to meet their needs in very personal ways, and to communicate with them as wonderfully unique individuals.
It's a consumer revolution-a demanding but liberating shift. The rise of this powerful consumer boss marks one of the most important milestones in the history of branding. The bigger question, however, is what this will mean for the future of branding.
seeking delightful shopping
Superior performance, quality and value are now the "table stakes." Consumers want more than attributes and benefits, and even solutions. They want delightful shopping, usage and service experiences they look forward to, time after time.
Brands that master the art of experiences will thrive. There are obvious examples-Apple's iPod and iTunes, eBay's community and interactive experience, Starbucks. There are also many examples in consumer categories that may not come to mind as quickly, but which may be even more illuminating-household cleaning, skincare, oral care, baby care. In every instance, brands in these everyday-usage categories have won with consumers because they fundamentally changed the experience consumers had previously come to expect from the category.
There are several examples from Procter & Gamble and Gillette that reveal the difference between technological innovation and innovation that creates great experiences.
* Swiffer takes the "bore out of the chore" of household cleaning. It makes cleaning convenient, fast and fun. As one consumer told us, Swiffer makes cleaning so easy her boyfriend actually started dusting. That's an experience that both surprises and delights!
* Mr. Clean provides "magical" surface cleaning and care. When mom hears her 3-year-old screeching with delight as he scratches his favorite marker drawing his dinosaur portrait across the dining room wall, she doesn't cringe. She reaches for Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and takes a moment to praise her little artist before cleaning his canvas, and guiding him back to his dry-erase board.
* Olay creates in-home pampering experiences, indulgences many women otherwise deny themselves. Olay Daily Facials, for example, transform the daily task of facial cleansing. With clothlike wipes and a splash of warm water, Daily Facials turn soap into a spa-like experience.
* Pampers innovation starts at knee-high level and is inspired by what it feels like to be a baby in mom's arms, or a toddler racing up the stairs to independence. Seeing the world through a baby's eyes makes all the difference. It has led to Baby Stages of Development diapers that grow with babies as they develop into toddlers. It has inspired Feel 'n Learn training diapers that do a lot more than help keep toddlers dry; these are diapers that teach, that help toddlers learn when it's time to use the potty. Pampers Kandoo is also about creating great experiences; the snap of a Pampers Kandoo lid popping open to help a toddler celebrate her independence is music to a mom listening just outside the door.
* Gillette's M3Power razor system creates a different shaving experience for men. Micro-pulses raise a man's beard so he can get a closer, smoother shave in one power stroke, while the pulsating heads massage his skin and contain vitamin E and aloe. It's a surprisingly masculine pampering experience.
* Gillette's Venus Divine razor system creates an equally delightful shaving experience for women. It is designed for a woman's hand, with individually wrapped blades and a special container for hanging Venus in the shower. It pampers their skin with moisture while giving them the closest shave in even the most sensitive spots. Venus makes shaving a delightfully feminine experience.
Creating these experiences demands that we innovate and operate differently.
beginning the innovation process
First, we must embrace a different mind-set. It starts by asking different questions at the beginning of the innovation process.
* Mr. Clean doesn't ask, "How can we help consumers get floors and toilets cleaner?" No, the more inspiring question is "How can we give consumers their Saturday mornings back?"
* Pampers asks, "How can we help babies and toddlers learn, grow and celebrate their independence?"
* Gillette Venus asks, "How can we help women feel wonderfully feminine every day?"
These kinds of questions open up many more innovation possibilities. These questions lead to delightful experiences, in addition to well designed, engineered and formulated products.
Second, we have to learn how to look and listen differently. In the past, we often approached consumers with very narrow objectives in mind-to learn how they washed their hair or cleaned their clothes. We should still look for these insights, but start from a much broader vantage point. It's important to get into consumers' lives, to know what their entire day or week or month is like, to understand how they juggle all the priorities in their lives, to get a glimpse at how they enjoy the solitude of a quiet moment at the end of the day. This is the best way to discover how we can make one particular moment in their daily lives a little better, easier, more enjoyable.
Third, we have to organize differently to ensure conversations happen continuously between all the right people throughout the life of a brand, and we have to develop the right skills. No single organization inside or outside a company can be responsible for a total consumer experience. This is why we seek to work with the best external partners for P&G's evolving business model-ad agencies, media planning and buying shops, shopper marketing experts, interactive agencies, external relations agencies, design firms, and others.
Great experiences are created when innovation is everyone's job, when the inspiration can and does come from many different sources inside and outside a company. It is essential to create the diversity at the beginning and retain it throughout the innovation and go-to-market process. This is the best way to be deliberate about the creation of experiences.
I certainly would not suggest that P&G or Gillette has it all figured out. We learn from consumers, customers, innovation partners, competitors and great companies in other industries every day. This continual learning process is the best part of being in brand-building and marketing today. But I do believe that adopting and asking more consumer-centered questions, listening and looking at consumers' total lives with all our senses working, and organizing in ways that get everyone involved in the creation and delivery of brand and product experiences and relationships are the three most important things we can do to meet consumers' higher-than-ever expectations.
It's a great time to be in the brand-building business. Much has happened in marketing and branding over the past 75 years, but the coming 75 promise to be even more inspiring and rewarding.
After all, we have a great boss.
A.G. Lafley is chairman and president-CEO of Procter & Gamble Co.