Customer Research Reveals SHOCKING Lesson in Differentiation
Whatever product or service you offer in the market, it's likely that there are other companies who are trying to solve the exact same problem you are. Oftentimes, it’s the differences that determine whether a customer goes with you or a competitor, so being clear on what makes your offering different is quite important. I learned a fairly shocking and valuable lesson about this a few years back. I thought I knew what made my company different. But I was totally wrong.
A couple years ago, my company was rebranding after an acquisition and decided to conduct customer research—partially because we wanted to test out a few possible new names, and partially to confirm our understanding of how customers viewed us.
We were pretty sure we understood what our key differentiator was—our intense customer-centric focus in our approach to creating great digital experiences.
But when we started interviewing our customers, asking open ended questions like, “What makes our company different?” We got a totally different set of answers than we expected.
Customers agreed that our “customer centricity” was valuable but told us that nearly all our competitors are now also focusing on it, or at least saying they were.
Did that mean our approach to customer research and use of design thinking to create digital products wasn’t important? Far from it. It was still important, just not a differentiator.
Then, the customers told us that what really did made us different from our competitors. They said it was that we collaborated with their teams effectively. We didn’t try to undermine their employees or try to make them look bad but instead tried to make them successful and grow their skills.
Frankly, we never considered that to be a differentiator because it just seemed to be the right thing to do. It never occurred to us that our competitors weren’t doing that.
Bottom line, what we thought was our key differentiator was actually a “qualifier” and what we assumed everybody did was actually what made us different, at least to many of our customers.
It's critical to know which characteristics of your company are differentiators vs qualifiers.
If you’re an airline, safety is critically important for you to do business, but it isn’t what makes you different because every airline has an almost ninety-nine percent rating. Compare that to someone like Virgin Atlantic who has a masseuse in business class offering neck massages. Is it critically important for someone buying a ticket? Maybe not, but it’s what makes them different.
Since then we’ve started using the model below when researching brands to understand which characteristics of a company fall into which category in the mind of the customer.
THE FOUR TYPES OF BRAND CHARACTERISTICS
In my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, I teach you the exact process and methods I use to help my clients succeed in their digital transformation journey to effectively differentiate themselves from the market and win the love of their customers. Get the first chapter for FREE here, or purchase the book here.