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Are we creating a generation of ‘one night stand’ brands?

It’s like the moment just before the start of a song on an album you know by heart when your mind hears the opening notes; that’s what I get in a consumer group the moment just before consumers tell me what they want from x brand. I hear it, and then what’s in my brain comes out of their mouths ‘Make it easy’.

For most businesses the sub-text to this response is ‘My life is busy - I want to deal with you as fast as possible so I can do something else more important to me’. And brand owners, recognising that there are indeed parts of life which are more enjoyable than changing energy tariff, checking your mobile phone bill or taking out a loan, focus on creating friction-free experiences, so smooth, so fast, the consumer would barely notice the interaction.

On first encounter, my experience of this type of ease (when it works) is an undeniable measure of pleasure; a mix of surprise, relief and gratitude – my shoulders go down and my brain lights up with a small glow of wonder at the sheer cleverness of an experience so well-thought through and executed that it flows without hiccup from task beginning to task end. It gives me the feeling that this day is going well; I’m on top of my game; the world is on my side. And, then, undeniably my expectations of ease notch up a little. Future experiences which require a pause for thought or recourse to the phone, maybe a search for a password, prompt an internal squirm, a clench of teeth, a rise in the day’s stress levels. In short, I’m more difficult to satisfy. I want great ease every time.

I appreciate that easy is difficult (think of all that design and alignment of channels, sites, people, tech) but I have a problem with ease as the sum total of a brand’s argument for being part of my life. For me, easy may be momentarily blissful but it is ultimately forgettable. It just doesn’t make enough of a mark.

Many years ago, when I was working with London Underground on their brand positioning, their Head of Research summed up his feelings on the subject “I just wish no-one noticed us”. This was in the days of the truly awful Northern Line – when trains across the network were decrepit and delays daily. I understood his desire to disappear below the parapet but have never forgotten the remark for its lack of vision and ambition. Here was a man in charge of a brand with the most wonderful heritage that daily unlocked the greatest capital city in the world for Londoners and visitors alike. What was he thinking?

Actually, he was just thinking about conquering the challenge of ease…let’s be so easy we don’t get a second thought. And that’s my issue, the lack of a second thought. What do you do when you’ve created a brand experience that is so easy it doesn’t get a second thought? Answer: you have to be so available that next time your consumer has a need for services like yours you are right under their nose. But, you know, lots of brands can play a good availability game, and with so many occasions, channels and devices, the number of bases brands have to cover is stupefying.

Much better surely to have a reason to be remembered and even sought out, whether it be, at the frivolous end of the brand spectrum, for your twinkly eyes and sparkling repartee (check out Maltesers) or, more seriously, your core principles or brilliant mind.

The other day The Times interviewed some single men about their life on Tinder. The article concluded with a thought from one of them “Will my generation look back and think, ‘Tinder made it easy to get sex, but made it impossible to fall in love?” It made me wonder, are we in danger of creating a generation of brands that do the same?

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