Expectation Leaders move beyond disruptive innovation by truly understanding what customers want

March 25, 2015

By: Betsy Neville

Netflix revolutionized the TV Industry. Chipotle promises “Food with Integrity.” CVS banned tobacco product sales company-wide. Starbucks introduced free Wi-Fi at all stores. PayPal paved the way for mobile payments and IKEA introduced furniture to charge your phone.

These companies all have something in common. They are Expectation Leaders. Expectation Leaders are companies that set new expectations for their industry and beyond. They are the breakthrough companies that reach higher, create new innovations in ways of serving their customers and others, and set the bar higher for everyone else. They not only disrupt their respective industries driving competition and redefining business models, customer experience, style and quality, but achieve far-reaching influence and recognition for their standard-bearing accomplishments. They challenge other companies and themselves by creating new expectations in the marketplace.

As FleishmanHillard readies to launch its third Authenticity Gap study examining expectations of consumers and how well they are being met by experiences with brands and the companies behind them, it raises the question: What’s at the heart of these pacesetting companies’ ability to create new expectations?

Evidence is mounting that personalized problem solving and serving customers is the secret to Expectation Leaders’ success. FleishmanHillard’s Authenticity Gap flagged this advantage last year, demonstrating that consumers had redefined innovation as personalized problem solving and expect companies to serve, not sell, to customers.

Recently, a flurry of articles said the same, citing Uber, Tesla and Warby Parker to Chipotle as examples. The articles flagged that customers don’t care specifically about inventions or innovations. They care that a product or service enables them to do something that they couldn’t do, or do well enough, before.

Expectation Leaders succeed in improving people’s lives.

It’s important to recognize that ideas come from people and transforming them into a game changing, expectation-generating product or service by inspiring teams to work together and managing complexity to deliver on their promise is the definition of leadership itself.

Expectation Leaders are people.

Derek Lidow, in a March 3, 2015 Fortune article couldn’t have made a stronger case for human capital’s starring role in Expectation Leadership, observing Apple’s recent hire of Mercedes Benz Research and Development Chief. He alerted all automotive, consumer electronics and automotive electronics companies to take heed!

So in the end, people might be the real secret of Expectation Leadership. With a sort of mind-to-mind collaboration happening between consumers and the innovative leaders who are able to deliver on their evolving needs, new products and services are being created, expectations are being met, and new possibilities are being introduced – meaning – the cycle of innovation has met its match in the cycle of expectations.

Betsy Neville is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Lead in North America. You can reach her at betsy.neville@fleishman.com.