Rising expectations come not only from need but also from a greater knowledge of technology and marketing. In 1977, few Americans had ever touched a computer. That means 20 years ago Americans were innocent of databases and mail merges and online research and the World Wide Web. Today, even an elementary school student can manage a simple mailing list and navigate the Internet.
Technology has changed American life on many levels. Imagine a universe without ATMs, cellular phones, fax machines and Federal Express. Back then, you could claim that keeping track of your customers individually was impossible. Today, such a claim just doesn't ring true.
At the same time, marketing hype doesn't pack the same punch it once did. Whether this trend indicates a growing cynicism or a healthy skepticism, selling on the basis of bells and whistles isn't easy anymore. "Brand loyalty still exists," says Langer, "but people are very open about looking for value. They may have talked about saving money in the '70s, but it was almost with embarrassment. Now that isn't true. It's much tougher to sell people today."
Giving people what they actually want--now, that's a timeless strategy. No matter how tastes have changed over the past 20 years and regardless of the various trends, attitudes, movements, breakthroughs, comebacks, setbacks and innovations we've seen, nothing succeeds like serving your customers well. If that's a taller task today than it was in the '70s when Joe Average and Jane Doe reigned supreme, perhaps it's also a more interesting one.