The rise of the unreasonable consumer
We don’t just expect Wi-Fi on planes now, we demand it. We demand high-speed Internet that never drops, as we hurtle through the sky at 400mph, 30,000 feet up. And the odds are we moan about having to pay for it. After all, Wi-Fi at Starbucks is free. And email. So is Skype. Oh, and we’d like a better quality of Cabernet, please, flight attendant; this one tastes like Listerine.
As a new generation of companies teaches us that the old trade-offs we used to consider reasonable no longer apply, they simultaneously train us to want more.
My own private driver for the cost of a taxi? Thank you, Uber. Use my credit card to buy carrots directly from the farmer? Bless you, Square. Eggs delivered directly to my house the day after they are laid via a web service? Yes please, Rakuten.
A new generation of consumers sees no reason why two seemingly irreconcilable demands shouldn’t be put together. These are Uber’s children. And this is the death of the trade-off.
The modern consumer is, in effect, forcing businesses to get beyond “either/or” and work out how to give them the “and.” They are asking propelling questions. And the answers they are getting are starting to change the face of the categories in which they appear. Just look at the United States alone:
Chipotle’s commitment to simple, hearty Mexican food with a side of sustainability has lead to double-digit growth three years in a row. T-Mobile now gives a smartphone without any contract, and it will pay off the early-termination fees charged by those who won’t. Small wonder that it is currently acquiring customers faster than ATT. Tesla’s plug-in Model S is beautiful and fast, gets the equivalent of 89 mpg and was recently voted the safest car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Yves Behar, the designer behind Jawbone and OLPC feels that this is the new normal—or at least, that we need to think of it as such: "The consumer today wants it all, and it’s our job to deliver it to them. To deliver the better experience that’s greener and less expensive, all at the same time. There’s no reason why it can’t be done, outside of the fact that somebody somewhere in a corporation is saying it can’t be done."
The future, it seems, belongs to the unreasonable challenger, who imposes on themselves the constraint of having to satisfy two apparently contradictory poles at the same time, and finds a way to do so. These are the brands that are gaining energy.
The point is that if we don’t ask propelling questions of ourselves, someone is going to ask them of us, someone with authority and legitimacy. It may be our largest or most influential customer, or our noisiest challenger, but if we don’t anticipate this, by the time we hear them we will already be behind the curve. This is the corollary of the new.
If we are not leading in being that inventive, then we risk becoming an important part of the past, rather than a shaper of the future. We all need to be more proactive in asking and answering propelling questions of ourselves, before someone else asks them of us.