Differentiate Your Customer Experience, or Die

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Jack Trout is well known to all of us involved in traditional marketing. His book, “Differentiate or Die” describes how the failure to differentiate your products from those of your competitors is a sure route to commoditisation. Or worse. To death by a thousand price cuts.

It also sounds so sensible, but is it really true?

As recently as five years ago it might have been. The world was full of products all trying to be the fastest, the biggest or the strongest. Strong brands were created by the kind of prize-winning marketing that filled all the available channels with marketing communications. And the winners took most of the spoils home with them. The No 1 brand in 2000, Coca Cola, was worth almost 70 billion dollars.

A lot can change in five years.

Coca Cola is still the No1 brand and it is still worth 67 billion dollars, but that is about all that is the same. Traditional marketing isn’t working anymore. We have become bored with the 3,000 marketing images we see every day. We have learnt to shut them out, to ignore them. To listen to our friends and to trust our gut instincts. As Seth Godin wrote with tongue in cheek, “All Marketers are Liars”, anyway. Didn’t we know it all along?

That doesn’t mean that customers have stopped buying though. Just pop down to your local IKEA and see the queues for yourself. And it doesn’t mean that marketing is dead. What has changed is the way that marketing is done. Increasingly, crude interruption marketing on TV, the radio or in magazines is being replaced with subtle branded customer experiences. Powered by the rise of the post-modern consumer and guided by advances in the cognitive neurosciences, customer experiences are being designed to guide customers through their entire lifecycle of consumption. One touchpoint at a time. That build working relationships with the brands they experience during those touchpoints. Relationships that last a lifetime.

Paradoxically, the key to success in building branded customer experiences is in adapting Jack Trout’s Differentiate or Die slogan. To differentiate around customers, rather than around products. But a one-size-fits-all customer experience just won’t do. Customers demand personalised experiences these days. And you had better give one to them or they will quickly be gone to your competitors. Competitors that either weren’t in your industry a few years ago, or that didn’t even exist. Just ask British Airways about low-cost airlines.

Aided and abetted by technology, pretty much every touchpoint can be mass customised for small customer segments, or personalised for individuals in one way or another. Retailer Tesco adapts serves up its customer experience differently to its 10,000 different customer segments. So do European telcos like TeliaSonera with their 10,000 customer segments. And credit card company Capital One carries out over 50,000 marketing experiments on micro-segments as small as a few hundred customers each year. The secret sauce that binds them together is Customer Lifecycle Management, which provides both a framework to break up the customer experience into individual touchpoints and the business rules to personalise each one to fit the needs of each customer.

So next time you are thinking about your branded customer experience, remember. It isn’t about the experiencing the brand. It’s about the branding the customer experience. And it isn’t about the average customer experience. It’s about everybody’s own individual experience.

What do you think? Can you manage the lifecycles of thousands of different customer throughout their experiences? Or is your generic customer experience going to have to be good enough for now?

Post a response and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

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