Differentiation is all about coming up with unique benefits that no other brand has to offer, right? And at all costs we should avoid the dreaded fate of trying to offer "generic" benefits that every other brand is trying to deliver.
Well, wrong, according to the authors of a book called "Simply Better", that was featured in the latest edition of Market Leader, The Marketing Society's quarterly magazine. The authors, Paddy Barwise and Sean Meehan, say: "Customers are not only concerned with being offered something unique, but being reliably delivered generic category benefits. The key element of the Being Simply Better Approach is emphasising the superior product or service a brand offers."
This is very much in tune with our belief that the world needs brands that offer more "sausage" (product) and less "sizzle" (emotion). The reality is that in many cases the standard of delivery on basic benefits still under-delivers versus what we really want and expect. This is especially the case in service businesses. Who hasn't turned into a green eyed monster after being forced to navigate the way through an automated phone answering service ("Press 1 for technical problems, Press 2 for new orders, Press 3 to just scream down the phone and shout at someone for wasting your time").
Here are a few examples of what Barwise and Meehan call "thinking inside the box" and innovating by superior delivery of core market benefits:
1. Shell service stations: built business by simply improving on the basics of service such as ensuring the the toilets were clean and that you could pay for fuel quickly. These small changes, executed consistently, were enough to build the business by 10%+. More on that case you can download here.
2. First Direct bank: has become the most recommended bank in the UK by delivering personal service over the phone 24/7, 365 days a year. In an age of automation, you can talk to a real person, in the UK, whatever time of day you call.
3. Gillette shaving: despite attempts to stretch into "male grooming" via deodorants and shampoo, what has worked best for the brand is constantly raising the bar in the core shaving area, through better and better technology.
4. Tesco: perhaps the best in the world at delivering the idea of Simply Better are Tesco. We were lucky enough to see inside this amazing company by working with them on their 3 year brand vision. They have an annual process of customer planning that involves systematically analysing every bit of the business, looking for ways of improving it and then making these happen. For example, there are now infra-red cameras that monitor the number of people in queues at the check-out that automatically ask for more staff to come out when there are more than 2-3 customers waiting!
So, next time you are working on innovation, spend some of the time on how you can be simply better at delivering the basic benefits of your category. You may find doing this well is a great way to grow.