Any brand that finds itself at a competitive disadvantage can leapfrog its peers. But if you are the competitor in a distant also-ran position, you're going to have to think and lead very differently. No matter your brand's size, industry, or longevity, this process works!
1. Benchmark broadly using leading indicators. Don't just measure yourself against your industry peers, but against the best of the best. If you want to improve your recruiting, go understand how Google (now Alphabet) recruits. If you want to improve your merchandising, look at what Nordstrom's is doing. If you want to understand consumers and consumer behavior, study Starbucks or Warby Parker. Benchmark against and learn from successful brands. Unfortunately, a lot of industries take a myopic view. "Those are not industrial products." Who cares? We all have to compete for mind-share and wallet-share.
To benchmark, rely on leading indicators as close to real time insights as possible: sentiment analysis, intentionality, engagement and social analytics. You need to really understanding how people feel about you, your efforts, and your brand at the time of their choosing and on the devices of their choice. I believe that "Progress trumps perfection." Don't spend six months building or trying to figure out how to get every ounce of value out of an analytics tool; move with whatever you have that can give you a sense of sentiment as demonstrated by current behavior. Surveys produce stale, lagging indications of results you created from your (often) distant past efforts.
- Detractors--If you can get to the heart of what's really important to them, you can use it to drive innovation;
- Neutrals--with very minor changes you can likely convert them to Promoters;
- Promoters--These people already like your brand and the results you've created for them. Activate them as evangelists of your brand!
Once you understand how customers feel about you, and you have identified some course corrections, you are ready for the next step.
2. Brand something different. Capture attention by creating fresh appeal. It's got to be something different, but it also has to be consistent with your brand's attributes. Spark interest with a new sub-brand. Give it its own unique microsite; don't send people to your main (probably overblown) website, or you'll lose them. Send them to microsites that don't just sell, but offer valuable tools to educate and engage them!
In this step you are creating the foundation for a conversation and a community.
3. Create on- and offline communities. Start with offline experiences, because nothing replaces in-person interactions. Whenever you can, create opportunities to connect in person for your existing and prospective customers, your partners, and whoever is in your relationship ecosystem.
As powerful as these experiences are, they tend to be a time-consuming and resource-intensive, and once they're over, they're done. So, I advise creating online, private and highly relevant communities to nurture those relationships until the next opportunity for face-to-face interactions with your brand comes along. If you can offer unique value via a private community--a "walled garden" behind a firewall, with a User ID and password--that gives people a reason to come back, it will set you apart and above the competitive peers. But it must offer something participants can't get from a public community like LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook. I've seen private communities succeed when they allow members to define who they are and what they're seeking. How can your customers, suppliers, and partners help each other achieve their desired outcomes? Leverage that to create a network effect that adds value for all.
This step is a reminder to be more intentional about what you are doing and why you are doing it. So is the next.
4. Identify the customer journey and your portfolio of offerings. Leapfrogging the competition brings lasting advantage when customer retention is your primary goal, not merely customer acquisition. It's by nurturing and growing your customer relationships that you lock in your leadership position. Retention requires understanding what customers need at each step of their journey, as they travel from awareness through discovery to evaluation, followed by purchase, usage and identification of related needs and desires to be fulfilled. This journey is about how customers are better off because of you.
I challenge you to identify a portfolio of offerings that sequentially deliver higher value, by leading customers toward deeper involvement and more real-time interaction. To draw an example from my own work: My customers' journey begins with subscribing to my newsletter. It is free, informative, engaging, and interesting, but it is one-way communication. It's a no-barriers on-ramp, but we're not getting to know each other. The next offering is my book. It will cost the customer $20 and a little time and effort, but in exchange they get valuable insights that they may not get from the newsletter. The next level is coaching and mentoring. Again, it costs more, but now we are working together 1:1. This journey leads toward invitations to speak to a broader audience or advisory engagements, to tackle more substantive and impactful challenges and opportunities.
As this example shows, your portfolio of offerings should deliver higher value with each level of involvement and mutual commitments. Give customers a path to continue to learn, grow, and improve their condition because they're in a relationship with you.
5. Create a feedback loop mechanism. The final step involves analyzing the data generated at each of those stages, and creating a feedback loop that improves customers' experience with you, every time. What are you learning at each stage of the interaction? Where are you capturing it? What does the dashboard look like? Most importantly, do you have a game plan, a process, or a mechanism to follow through with what you've learned and improve customers' very next experience, the very next touch?
I have seen these five steps help competitively disadvantaged brands leapfrog their peers. And help executives grow from simply managing to visionary leadership! How will you make the same leap?
- 1. Benchmark against the best of the best--not just industry peers--and use leading indicators that reveal customers' sentiments.
- 2. Introduce new value (consistent with your overall brand) and use the interest that sparks to draw people into communities, offline and online, where the network effect increases the value.
- 3. Identify the customer journey, your portfolio of increasingly valuable offerings, and then create a feedback loop driven by data generated at each stage of that journey.
David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® - the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Siemens, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics - Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact - Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at www.NourGroup.com.