Getting a grasp on what today's customers are thinking, what they expect and how they react isn't easy. Following are some key concepts that can serve as guidelines for planning marketing and sales programs. 1) Privacy. There's a vehemence about privacy. Look for it to be even more fiercely defended. It's as if customers are saying ``It's my life and I'll decide what I'll do with it, so get out of my face.''
2) Access. Access is the other side of privacy. People want to be able to connect with the world from where they are. Thanks to the wireless world, we can work anywhere, be anywhere and still be connected.
3) Accumulation. As consumers feel comfortable in taking charge of their own destiny, look for them to be outspoken about demanding less government and certainly less welfare.
4) Value. Clearly, value is on the upswing, which helps explain why customer loyalty has become an oxymoron. It isn't that people are disloyal, it's simply that they move to where they find the greatest value. Customers are only for a limited time-the period measured by their perception of value. The major task for any business is to continually create customers to replace those who move elsewhere.
5) Vision. Although the nostalgia craze will continue, it will only be a minor sidebar to the big story. Staying on the forward curve is what it takes today, which means that leadership is dramatizing the future so that it makes an impact.
6) Technology. Computer technology will have an ever-increasing impact on our lives, resulting in less differentiation between our private and work lives. Because of technology, downsizing will never stop, with the virtual corporation becoming more the accepted model. This goal is to automate everything in order to reduce costs by eliminating the intervening steps or processes in order to operate in real time. Employees top the ``to go'' list.
7) Time. Time is the top priority. The computer has changed the way we view time. We expect everything to occur at Pentium speed! This is not a matter of immediate gratification; rather delays-such as standing in line-are viewed as something being wrong with the system, and the company that allows that to happen isn't up to speed.
8) Seamless. Today's customers don't think in terms of categories such as ``insurance agencies,'' ``bank,'' ``car dealer,'' ``clothing store'' and the like. This was the small-town model, one that persisted for 100 years but is now dying. The rise of mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot may be only a transition from ``Main Street in a big box'' to shopping on the Internet.
9) Self-directing. We are moving toward self-direction where individuals take responsibility for their decisions. This is the direct result of corporate downsizing, and the recognition that we must take care of ourselves now that pensions are gone, Social Security is on the way out and job security is absent. Again, the computer and a wireless world give the individual greater control.
10) Temporary. Nothing lasts for many reasons, including technological changes and even the fact that we live much longer. Families change, the economic cycles are shorter, tastes change, more products are disposable.
11) Individual. Mass everything is disappearing. The consumer wants everything made, designed and delivered to individual specifications.
Just as the industrial revolution created mass-produced products, the new technology is forging a new individualism. To win these customers you must understand the way they think.
Mr. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm based in Quincy, Mass.