In today’s dog-eat-dog business environment, it is essential that you develop a strategy to stand out in a crowded marketplace… to separate yourself from your competition. Simply put, to be different!
Theodore Levitt, the renowned economist, professor at Harvard Business School and editor of The Harvard Business Review, had the following to say in his 1991 book, Thinking About Management:
“Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which individuals and companies must constantly engage. It is not discretionary. And, everything can be differentiated, even so-called commodities such as cement, copper, wheat, money, air cargo and insurance.”
Price is the enemy of differentiation. By definition, being different is worth something. Consumers are willing to pay a premium, redefine the buyer/seller relationship, erect barriers to the seller’s competitors and establish the seller as a trusted adviser when a differentiated platform offers perceived value in the marketplace.
Research on Brand Differentiation
Even with all of the attention paid to branding these days, more and more companies are being commoditized. In other words, fewer and fewer are able to differentiate themselves through the eyes of the customer. Commoditization occurs when the focus of the consumer’s decision is on the offering rather than the quantifiable difference that you bring to the business. You cannot see commoditization. However, it can be felt with a negative impact on your confidence, reputation, time, money and relationships. Brand Keys, a loyalty and engagement research consultancy, analyzed 1,847 products and services in 75 categories via its Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. It found that only 21% of all the products and services examined had any points of differentiation that were meaningful to consumers.
So what is missing? A differentiated value proposition supported by a unique consumer experience.
Differentiated Value Proposition
Value proposition is the reason for your professional existence. It describes how you create value for others. It makes you stand out in a crowded marketplace. Without a compelling value proposition, you are ordinary and disposable – a commodity. With a distinguished value proposition, you are unique and indispensable.
Your unique value proposition must summarize the reason why a potential customer should buy your particular product or service, how it exceeds that of your competition and why it is worthy of the price they must pay. The ideal value proposition is concise and appeals to the customer’s strongest decision-making drivers. It is an irresistible offer, an invitation that is so compelling and attractive that the customer would be out of his or her mind to refuse your offer.
Customer Experience Journey
What is the Customer Experience Journey? It is the sum of all experiences that the customer has with you and your organization … the actions and results that make the customer feel important, understood, heard and respected. Each and every customer interaction molds and shapes the journey. While you may take great pride in the “features and benefits” of your offerings, it is important that you assess the degree to which you are stimulating the emotions of those whom you serve. To accomplish this, you must deeply engage your customer’s emotions in addition to, and even above, their intellect. You will hit roadblocks unless you are able to form an emotional connection that transcends price and product.
Emotional connections are essential components of the journey. Research indicates that more than 50% of the customer experience is subconscious, or how a customer feels. The self-conscious brain is a fertile garden in which to sow positive seeds. The mind is highly selective, processing millions of pieces of information each second. Whether you realize it or not, you are touching the subconscious in each step of the Customer Experience Journey.
In designing and delivering a Customer Experience Journey, it is important that you have a plan to engage the consumer. Emotional engagement is the foundation of the customer experience. People rationalize personal decisions first but make decisions based on feelings. A great experience transcends the rational attributes of a product or service (i.e., price).
Cecil Beaton, the English Academy Award-winning costume designer, said: "Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose, emotion and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of ordinary."
Dare to be different? You bet!