The [Ad]vantage: Viva la Différence
This unprecedented level of accessible information is not only empowering for the end user, but has also forced businesses to relearn, rethink and redefine what it means to be in business and how to operate in this new landscape. A company used to "corner the market" simply based on proximity to its customers and lack of nearby competition. Today's companies, however, face a market that borders on information overload, providing consumers with thousands of sites on which to read about Hillary's latest exaggeration or book a flight to Aruba.
Certainly, the need for differentiation is nothing new. A good business plan and marketing strategy will identify a company's competitive points of differentiation and leverage those points to reach new customers and extend market share. In theory, if you can create a niche, you can create a business opportunity. Easier said than done.
What's become uniquely challenging about today's market is how the removal of barriers to information and increasing options has left many brands struggling to be unique, competitive and relevant. Companies that used to view themselves as different from their competitors now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of equality. The law of averages is setting in after years of acting and reacting to each other's product or service enhancements. For some, what once was the cornerstone of a solid business plan has suddenly become a liability.
The sudden accessibility to so many choices has empowered price-conscious consumers. However, as companies began defining themselves solely by their low, low prices, the consumer experience was compromised and brand loyalty all but lost.
The result of all these factors? Brand experience has become a key strategic differentiator.
Today's consumers are more aware of design than past consumers. When near limitless, real-time options abound for everything imaginable, final purchasing decisions often rely on the related experience more than ever before. From product design (Dyson) to integrated product experiences (iPhone) to service interaction (ABC's HD video player), companies with a greater awareness of the power and importance of experience are attracting consumers and extending their value beyond that of their competitors.
This is not to say that form has replaced function. Rather, function is expected and form preferred, if not demanded. Consumers show their preferences through clicks, usage, brand loyalty and proactive referrals. Get it right, and they'll tell 10 friends. Get it wrong, and they'll tell a hundred. Case in point: Apple. The company's relentless design standards once appeared to be overkill, driving the company toward imminent death. Now, those standards are a significant competitive advantage, allowing Apple to maintain premium pricing relative to the rest of the industry.
One critical factor to consider when thinking about your brand's experience and your competitive opportunities: Brand experience is much more than your latest campaign or online initiative. In other words, it transcends your organization and lives well beyond the halls of marketing. It's the collective experience from a consumer's point-of-view and one that's just as likely to be influenced by operations as it is by marketing. For some companies, the dependency of corporate integration is what stands in the way, the obstacle between good and great. For others, it will create opportunity. One of the most advantageous aspects of using brand experience as a differentiator is that, unlike service or prices, it's far more difficult for the competition to duplicate.
Brands have long sought an emotional connection with their audience. For many years, this was considered the major advantage of TV. In an interesting twist, this is exactly the opportunity available to many brands today through innovative, no-compromise approaches to crafting their brand's experience. Advertisers may not shed tears of joy, but at least they won't be shedding tears of despair.
Kirk Drummond is co-founder of Drumroll, an interactive agency creating innovative brand experiences and strategies. (firstname.lastname@example.org)