Customer journeys will mean nothing without sustainable products

I’ve been working with several clients on their customer journeys over the last couple of months. Though all in different markets, they all aim to address the same thing – what does a future customer look like? What do people want, and how do they want to buy it?

It’s not an easy question to answer and no business should start to determine their future customer without looking at the macro picture first, because there are some major changes afoot.

Firstly, a cash constrained economy will see a shift in habit. If there is an imminent recession as we often see predicted, then companies will have to build experiences as well as good product. We are seeing more evidence that people are valuing things less and experience more. Getting a product into someone’s hand will need to come with a great experience.

Not only that, owning things is not as important anymore. Why own a drill when all you need to do is put a hole in the wall once in a while? Consumers will want to rent it. This will pose a difficult conundrum for a lot of brands: how can they add value and still make money? It will put traditional growth models at odds.

There’s also an issue on currency here. e-currency is going to be very important. We hear it a lot, but I’m still not convinced we’ve worked out how or why. Fundamentally we think in pound coins – it’s after all how we are all paid – so I can’t see traditional money systems disappearing for a while yet.

In the same way, I’m not sure how relevant loyalty points will be in the future unless they convert to money, especially if the household income comes under pressure. In my experience, when consumers get a psuedo currency like loyalty points they immediately seek to convert it back the the currency they understand, which is good old pounds and pence. I think they will continue to do the same with any e-currency and frankly then you have to ask what is the point? Making payments digitally in our currency is so easy now with Apple pay, contactless and money transfer apps, that there is no benefit in adding in a new currency.

Getting people to part with money will be the challenge, which leads me to my next points related to searching for products and their ‘green’ credentials.

We don’t have to use our laptop or phone to research something anymore. We can just say ‘Alexa, find me the best price for flights to Athens’. Voice search will influence how we buy things in future, especially as younger generations don’t expect face to face transactions. They’ll use all manner of social channels to research, question and buy products or services. This has to change business models and the touchpoint, or variety of touchpoint on offer.

Thomas Cook’s fall has highlighted flexible, personalised packages at the right price and easy to select and buy are the way forward. Companies will need to be very clear about their target audience and how they expect to interact to succeed.

Finally, climate change and reversing it is gathering pace at a rate we’ve not seen before. There’s an urgency and it’s taken things like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet to make using a plastic straw a toxic practice overnight. The tipping point felt immediate.

Now Greta’s crusade is putting pressure on governments and companies to rethink the supply chain. The research people will do won’t just be to find a drill to put a hole in the wall. It will be to find one made with metals mined ethically or recycled, that pay back to other communities, or where the air miles to import it are offset.

Some consumers are already more ecologically minded, animal testing a case in point. I am eating more vegetarian and vegan meals each week. It’s tough luck for a farmer’s son but I accept that the collective power of small changes will add up to make a big difference.

But I think we’ll see this outlook eventually ramp up to such an extent that we’ll question everything. We might buy an electric car now because it’s the right thing to do if we want to lower our emissions. In the future, we might question this decision because we don’t really know what will happen to the battery at the end of the car’s life. We wouldn’t dream of buying fur, but we might not buy fake fur either because it’s made of plastic.

So, I think we’ll see people become smarter about the choices they make – they will look behind the headline more and more. Companies will have to apply ethical, and ecological best practice to survive. This is where the value will lie for a lot of customers. And it will influence how we part with the spare cash we have – we may spend less, we may consumer less, but we may be more willing to spend more on a product with greener credentials that will last.

No longer is this about the journey to buy, it’s about the journey to source. The supply chain is at the crux of it and the two teams that often work in silos will need to join forces.

That’s because it won’t be all about the window display and the mobile payment technology. Instead it will be about using my phone to scan the label on a shirt to see how much water was used to grow the cotton, or whether it’s made using eco-textiles.

That’s how brands need to think when it comes to deciding the journey. It’s clearly going to be a very tough challenge to get right but without doubt it’s one we all have a stake in.

James Gray

About James Gray

James has over 20 years of experience working in the telecoms and retail industries. He is an expert in subscription-based business models, CRM, direct and indirect channel management and major proposition development and launches. He has held a number of Marketing Director and Consumer Director roles.