The digital age has made the world much smaller. Information can travel thousands of miles in seconds and the quantity of available information seems endless. Consumer exposure to new innovations is the fuel for the expectation economy.

We are currently in the expectation economy and expectation transfer takes place daily among millions of consumers. Expectation transfer occurs when consumers are exposed to products and services that they believe to be an improvement to existing options and apply their newly-raised expectations to other brands, products, and companies in all industries. This can occur through personal experience, word of mouth, traditional media and especially through social media.

Megatrends impacting consumer products as a result of cross-industry expectations are:

  • Transparency
  • Purpose and social causes
  • Convenience
  • Experiential products & services
  • Climate & sustainability
  • Speed of customer service

Cross category expectations are more common and easier to spot. Examples of expectation transfer across categories are:

  • Demand for protein is high so consumers expect to find it beyond the deli and ice-cream is the latest category to meet that expectation.
  • Consumer expectations for animal welfare that was once prominent in cosmetics and personal care items have transferred to foods such as cage-free eggs.
  • The launch of products traditionally high in sugar that have reduced sugar without artificial ingredients or sacrificing taste has created expectations for consumers that it is possible for all products, including soft drinks, yogurts, and cereals.

Expectation transfer does not just apply to products and services but also impacts expectations on companies and their operating practices. Compelling evidence of this expectation transfer is in the recent announcements from multi-national corporations that they are instituting measures to reduce emissions and improve sustainability.

The speed of expectation transfer can vary based on the importance of a new benefit, awareness or distribution of a new innovation, industry size, pricing, purchase cycle, etc. For example, a breakthrough innovation in BMW cars would take longer for expectation transfer to gain traction due to the purchase frequency, price point, and limited buyer pool while a new innovation among fast moving consumer goods, like dairy products, can advance expectations quickly.

The expectation economy is still relatively young, but like advances in technology, it will continue to experience rapid evolution. Marketing and innovation leaders must widen their view of the market landscape and spend time in new aisles so they can see the new products changing consumers’ expectations. Armed with that knowledge, they can develop the new innovations that attract consumers’ attention and wallets.