What makes a brand essential? In today's marketplace of infinite choice, you should assume that any brand is replaceable -- yes, including yours. It doesn't take much digging to find a competitor for consumers to send their business to. No Ubers available in the area? Consumers may turn to Lyft. That cup of Starbucks killing the pocketbook? Dunkin' may start to gain appeal. With so many alternative providers, your brand's relevance is always on the chopping block. So how is it that some brands manage to rise above the rest and maintain customer loyalty, time and time again?  

Unique consumer generations have the power to cancel brands that don't fulfill their exact needs. But it takes more than function to earn allegiance from your customers. When done right, it is the ability to cater to the combined attitudes of all consumers, regardless of generation, that can inch a brand closer to the coveted status of essential. 

If a business is successful in solidifying itself among the hearts and minds of the four primary consumer groups, then their risk of demise is mitigated. But with 66 percent of consumers suggesting that only a few brands even spark their curiosity, how can you achieve this kind of cross-generational brand relevance? The answer lies in five key need states that all generations share.

1: Less Truly Is More 

The pandemic has shifted consumer behavior across every generation. Today, 83 percent of consumers consider time savings and simplicity to be key value drivers when interacting with brands. They want to work with companies that make the path to purchase easy, while providing exceptional customer service that resolves any issues in minutes rather than days. 

From inflation to climate change, consumers want to lessen their burdens. In fact, 82 percent are trying to penny pinch, hoping to spend less in general. Eighty-six percent have become more ingredient-conscious, seeking out more natural brands, and 74 percent are reducing their use of plastics and other wasteful items. 

Brands that consider this need state are confident in the philosophy that less is more without sacrificing on value. This is often communicated in their brand messaging:  

  • Tovala offers a "truly effortless way to cook at home."  
  • Warby Parker provides "quality and better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price."  

What's a call-out your customers might use to describe how you fulfill this ideal? Whether it's decreasing your carbon footprint or delivering faster, simpler service, consumer groups are united in their desire to reduce unnecessary burdens in their lives. 

2: Moments of Joy 

After two years of pandemic-induced isolation, stress is high, anxiety is high, loneliness is high.... You get the idea; we need some relief! Most people are looking for ways to increase happiness in their lives by turning to brands that are fun, entertaining, and empowering. 

Consider the fact that TikTok -- a platform predominantly used to capture and share the moments of joy in our lives -- grew by a whopping 85 percent in 2020 alone. That rapid growth is expected to continue, blossoming from 66.5 million U.S. users in 2020 to a projected 89.7 million by 2023

Brands that are seen as essential offer more than just a momentary bright spot in their customers' days. They seek out opportunities to deliver new moments of happiness through a playfully positioned product, by rewarding loyalty or by prioritizing an exceptional customer experience. That's a need that extends the generational divide. 

3: Living in Harmony 

When Uber set out to disrupt the taxi industry, delivering a friction-less experience for both the rider and driver became their key differentiator. When Apple created the iPhone, a world of seamless connection was placed in our hands. These brands made themselves essential by empowering their customers with convenience, connectivity, and comfort -- something we've all now come to expect.  

Eighty percent of buyers across consumer groups want brands to integrate seamlessly into their lives. They are looking for products and services that leverage modern technologies to reduce pain points and frustrations, prioritizing a harmonious experience for the end user. For example, when Ikea learned that shoppers wanted to feel more confident about their purchases, they took advantage of augmented reality. Now a smartphone app allows customers to see how furniture might look in their homes by projecting the product directly into their space at scale. 

Taking a closer look at your customer journey might help you map out new innovations that deliver a more harmonious experience for your customers.  

4: The Currency of Prosperity 

Prior to the pandemic, personal definitions of "success" were already shifting. While historically, generations may have perceived success as hitting a target income bracket, culturally we are beginning to buck the limitations of this tradition. The concept of achieving some form of "status" in life is now less appealing than finding a healthy life-work balance. And after two years of pandemic-enforced self-examination, the concept of "success" is shifting even further. 

Of course, we all continue to hope we can earn enough to live comfortably and care for our loved ones, but the pandemic has introduced concerns into our lives that go well beyond money. New attentions to physical, mental, and environmental health have altered our definition of prosperity and the brands that share this new vision of priorities are trading in a currency that gives more than it takes. 

Consumers nowadays are rallying around brands that seek to enhance their well-being and reduce their risks in life. They want to buy from companies that embrace sustainable practices and deliver products that reduce their carbon footprints. When Starbucks recently announced their plans to move all customers to reusable cups by 2025, the stock rebounded from the nosedive it was taking just 24 hours prior, thus demonstrating the true value behind having (and living by!) values.  

As you seek to meet this new definition of prosperity, consider what your brand does and how it delivers value for the world. Essential brands are those redefining success by prioritizing people, values, and the planet. 

5: Honesty Is Vital 

Talk is cheap. In fact, 66 percent of Americans don't trust what brands say, fearing that brands put profits over their customers and employees. Customers today want brands to do more to earn and maintain their trust going forward. However, this is only possible if brands practice what they preach. Values must be clearly communicated and followed by thoughtful, meaningful action. 

Honesty and accountability should be considered one in the same. When yet another mass shooting led to public outrage, Dick's Sporting Goods took a clear stand by halting the sale of assault weapons in their stores. This decision lost them some customers, but they gained new customers (and reinforced the loyalty of others) by prioritizing purpose over profits. 

To best lead with honesty, embrace authenticity, and place your corporate values front and center on the "About" page of your website. View every aspect of your organization through the lens of those values and adjust where needed. Don't tell your customers you'll do better, keep your brand promise in everything you do, every day. 

Essential Brands Deliver on All 5 Need States 

While every generation may prioritize these need states differently, there is no doubt that, from Boomers to Gen-Z, consumers are united by these five expectations. The brands that deliver on each need state have the opportunity to withstand the test of time, win in the current moment, and find an essential place in the hearts and minds of their customers.