Business models are changing, customer relationships are becoming more direct, more immediate and more experience orientated.
To help with change, companies are turning to every kind of consultant, as well as innovating on their own. Management and technology consultants are re-platforming and process improving for business efficiency in a world of digital transformation. User experience designers are fixing problems for the customer around research and ethnography. Big business is looking to start ups for inspiration, and start-ups are gearing for sale to big businesses.
Brand experiences are becoming more seamless, more self-service and more efficient around tasks and journeys.
But they are also less and less differentiated.
For example, based on user-experience alone, how different are rivals in the mobile ‘ride hail’ space? They both geolocate you on a dynamic map with car icons moving in real-time, connect you to the nearest driver and allow you to pay through a pre-registered account, choose from tiered offers and ride share.
How different are airlines that offer loyalty-driven travel management apps with integrated boarding cards, parking locators and flight booking services, then board you at the same airport, to the same destination, on the same Airbus A380, with a lounge serving the same food and wine, in the same alliance?
How different are premium music streaming services that offer the same artists, the same playlist features, the same offline functionality and personalised recommendations around your selections and preferences?
How different are banks when they all offer mobile banking around the same balance checking, money transfer, interest rates and spending habits data?
How different are retailers that offer an omni-channel path to purchase, loyalty schemes, click and collect, home delivery, rich in-store experiences and the same consumer brands for the same price?
The answer is, not very different at all.
Which leads to the question: in the experience economy, how will we help consumers to choose between similar options when everything is digitized, optimized, personalized and instant?
Or more simply, how will we choose when everything is the same?
The answer, as it was for detergent brands in the 1950s, is that we don’t just create good customer experiences, but we focus on creating differentiated brand experiences. Detergents used the same chemicals, were packaged in the same boxes and offered ‘whiter whites’ next to each other on the same supermarket shelf. Differentiation depended on name, identity and awareness through advertising as well as aggressive distribution strategies to dominate the shopping experience.
Unlike the 1950s however, this is no longer simply a matter of packaging, distribution and advertising, but dependent on a more complex ‘experience chain’ that exploits the full potential of a connected world to differentiate and deliver ubiquitous, seamless, personalized, contextual, immediate and convenient products and services regardless of channel or location. In other words, we have to differentiate through a full brand experience proposition, rather than just a product or service promise of quality, effectiveness or reliability.
This looks more like Amazon Prime Now, or BMW Drive Now – in fact any brand with Now in the name – that attend both to new customer experience hygiene factors in a connected world, and the need to stand for something unique and integrate it effortlessly into the journey from awareness to purchase and loyalty. So the customer doesn’t just have a good experience, they have a unique one.
We are leaving the era of digital disruption and entering a new age of differentiation. Brands that thrive and grow will know how to deliver difference, as well as efficiency, in an age when both are essential to success.
Tom is a brand strategist with international experience and has worked with some of the world’s leading brands and businesses to drive growth through brand thinking in a connected world. He is global head of strategy for FutureBrand Worldwide with responsibility for strategy, corporate development and the firm’s methodologies. He is also author of the FutureBrand Index – a unique perception study of the PwC Global Top 100 Companies by market capitalisation.
Tom has a Masters degree in organisational consulting and writes and speaks on topics including brand experience, organisational change and the future.
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