"All time is equal, but some time is more equal than others" (apologies to George Orwell)
Brands want customers’ attention - to consider, to buy, to consume, to tell their friends, to buy again - all of which takes time.
But how much is this time worth?
We’ve created a simple equation to measure the value of time spent with brands. As formulae go it lacks a little mathematically robustness, but it does at least encourage us to consider what makes time valuable.
The numerator is simply the quality of time (Q) on offer. Obviously, if an experience is enjoyable (eg dinner for 2, a gig), then we are more likely to value it. However, if we do not actively enjoy the experience (e.g. commuter journey, queuing), then we value it less.
The denominator is a product of the frequency of the experience (F) and the competition for that time (C).
Usually, the less frequent the experience the more valuable it is to us, particularly when we enjoy it (eg wedding day, the first pint of the evening). However, the law of diminishing returns tends to kick in pretty quickly, thereby reducing the benefit of each incremental unit.
The competition for time is near to constant in today's developed world since we are conditioned to believe we are (& must tell others that we are) busy, regardless of age, lifestage or occupation. The resident pensioners in our street whose daily activity constitutes a 200 metres stroll to the shops consider themselves to be full to capacity. As does my unemployed young German friend (who unsurprisingly offered to draw up a spreadsheet to prove it).
However, the variable with the biggest impact on the value of time is a sense of purpose (P). An experience which helps us to serve a higher need, which resonates with our beliefs and values, or sense of self worth, is exponentially more valuable than one that doesn’t
Brands that understand this enjoy abnormal success simply because customers who engage with them feel good about it on a less superficial level than pleasure or display. These brands help customers to be who they are, and to live their lives more on their own terms. Great examples include:
The Entertainer’s conviction that childhood should be treasured and protected at all costs (including considerable cost to their bottom line by not opening on Sundays).
Coya Restaurant who believe profoundly in recreating the unconditional generosity and informality family life.
UnderArmour’s stance that anyone who wants to should have a go, regardless of what others say
Virgin’s consistent championing of the underdog against category monopolies.
The lesson for brands is clear: in the constant struggle to grab customers’ time and attention there are many levers we can pull beyond price. The lever that generates the most value to customers is labelled ‘purpose’.
However, it is simply not good enough for a brand to communicate why it exists. Brands must grasp how and why their beliefs help customers to ignite their own sense of purpose (which the brands above achieve in spades).
Only then will customers feel that time spent with the brand is time well spent.