Few businesses will have failed to notice that consumers are different these days. Patrons have become more knowledgeable, more demanding and less dependable. These changes are of great significance, but first it is helpful to look at the background from which they have sprung.

Advertising in its earliest form was promoted by the industrial revolution in the 18th century. As manufacturing hit its stride on both sides of the Atlantic and producers rolled off assembly lines, firms needed ways to stimulate demand for the goods they were making. Mass advertising started to appear in the 19th century and took off in the 20th century.

The consumer society that emerged was one where products and services were clearly branded and brands were designed to reflect appealing values in a bid to differentiate them in the mind of the average shopper. Emotive characteristics were attributed to goods. If I buy this car, I will be happy”. Marketers promoted a lifestyle that people were encouraged to aspire to. Advertising was in the business of selling dreams.


But in the industrial age has given way to information age and today consumers are increasingly aware of the wiles and ways of clever marketers and slick advertisers. Mass production is no longer the dominant feature of the economy. The proliferation of the internet has made cultural and geographical barriers seem significant. Globalisation has meant that brands such as Coca-Cola and Kodak, McDonalds and Microsoft, Nike and Sony are known throughout the world.

As Naomi Klein points out in her book No Logo (published in 2000), many companies have been focusing more on creating a strong brand than the product itself. There is no longer better example shared the same desire- to establish their name as a trusted entity in the minds of potential consumers. With many of them, the service offering have turned out to be secondary to the image and perceived standing in the marketplace.

Boo.com was one of the first high profile dotcom causalities, despite a highly regarded advertising campaign and enviable brand recognition for such a young company. But it built the brand without making sure it could deliver what it promised, let alone make money and not run out of cash. So like many dotcoms that believed that if they created a strong brand everything else would follow, it failed.

The hard business facts are that consumers are becoming more intelligent in their reading of marketing messages and more discerning in their purchasing. The internet has made it much easier to compare products and prices, and, in general, those products and services benefit from more distribution channels and more easily accessible information.

Consumers are also becoming more intolerant of standards they find unacceptable. For example, age old practices whereby cheques paid in take several working days to clear while a debit card, telephone or Internet transaction with a bank takes almost instantaneously.

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so- Mahatma Gandhi.

If you make the customer a promise… make sure you deliver it.