Why finding your point of difference isn't as complicated as you thought
Do you find it’s a struggle to stay competitive, differentiated and unique in a well-saturated market? Bearing in mind the fast pace of marketing (and every area of business), you're not alone.
Being exceptional as a brand isn't something you can leave to chance. It’s often thought that you have to have an innovative, ground-breaking product to really stand out from the crowd. And that’s fine if you're either a huge company with a whopping budget for continuous R&D or a very specialist, niche business.
But what about the rest of us who might be worried that we’re too ordinary or don’t have anything particularly outstanding to bolster our brand?
It’s surprising what we can learn just from looking around at unlikely industries. It’s actually the smaller organisations who have mastered the art of being exceptional by creating unique customer experiences. By doing this, they have managed to make customers feel special and valued so that they can enjoy everyday tasks.
Take going to the vets, for example. Surely this can’t be anyone’s favourite pastime. So a veterinary practice who can actually make this experience an enjoyable one must be a winner, right? Enter White Cross Vets…
So how have they done it?
How many times have you been to the doctors, dentists or vets and had to wait half an hour or more? To make it worse, there are signs plastered over the walls warning of no refunds (or even a penalty) if you’re late or miss your appointment. Frustrating isn’t it?
Surely if you’re going to be penalised for bad time management then the same should go for the doctor/dentist/vet? That’s exactly what White Cross Vets think too.
They’ve introduced the ‘No Wait Guarantee’ which promises a free follow-on appointment if the customer has to wait 20 minutes or more.
There’s lots of other little things too – free parking on-site, open long hours including Saturdays. And little things like a ‘get well’ card signed for each pet. These may not ground-breaking or even necessarily unique features, but they all add up to make the customer experience that much smoother and more friction-free.
Reducing friction involves actually getting inside the customer’s shoes and having a good walk round. Starting right from the very first interactions with your brand (such as seeing an advert or receiving a call) and working all the way through to delivery, aftercare and follow-on sales; every step counts. An annoying advert, an unnecessary delay… all these little things add up and will probably lead to lost business.
HAPPY PEOPLE = HAPPY CUSTOMERS
For a relatively small company, White Cross Vets have a remarkably progressive attitude towards staff.
Take training, for example. Needless to say in the veterinary profession it’s absolutely crucial. It’s hard work and time-consuming for both trainers and trainees. But how about holding the sessions in an exotic location, such as the South of France? No wonder they have an award-winning team!
And that’s not all either. They have a system called ‘Alfie Tokens’ whereby staff are empowered to reward and praise other staff through a token system. They also give an extra day’s holiday for their birthday. They provide free deliveries of fresh fruit every week to their offices. The list just goes on!
Even better, the company celebrated its 80th year in 2017 by holding a staff raffle. But not just any old raffle: the winner could choose their 2-week holiday anywhere in the world (the lucky winner buzzed off to Australia with her family)! Now that’s what I call staff engagement…
Their commitment to staff and maintaining a strong human element has been well rewarded. They have been listed in the Sunday Times Best Companies awards for the past 5 years and are the only veterinary practice to have gained a 3-star rating.
This can probably be best summarised by a piece from the Sunday Times, where owner Tim Harrison is outlining his commitment to get to know each of the 150+ staff:
“We push the family culture here – it’s the little things that count,” Harrison says. “A few years ago, I found out everyone’s kids’ names and sent them a personalised Easter egg. We are not a huge company and some things we just can’t afford, but we do what we can.”
What have they avoided?
This may be an obvious point, but it’s a very relevant one. White Cross Vets aren’t satisfied with just staying where they are; they’re rapidly expanding throughout the North and Midlands. For their own sake and their customers', that growth is a very good thing.
On the face of it this might sound a bit corporate and greedy, but hear me out.
If you study Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’ll notice that basic needs (such as protection, security and order) are second-most important to human life. And it’s that basic requirement of humanity that influences every decision we make. In short; will the impact of this decision have a negative impact on my security? Do I feel secure in this environment? Am I confident that the environment is stable?
It’s that basic need that drives us to seek assurance of security in our decision-making – and that’s my point. Imagine you were seeking vet help for your pet. Would you choose a progressive, growing, stable company, one that gives you reasonable confidence of longevity? Compare that to a practice which is unstable, stagnant and may or may not be there to support you in a year’s time… need I say more?
Of course, every brand will have a different customer value model but the fact remains that Maslow most definitely had a point.
Growth and open innovation isn’t just good for customers. Staff feel confident and assured if they know that the business is stable, growing at a sensible rate and keeping ahead of the game. Banks and investors will want to see signs of a sustained and well-managed growth pattern. And of course, it means that the bottom line is kept healthy and will provide the best and most organic source of funding for many years to come.
TREATING COMMUNITY WITH CONTEMPT
There’s a lot of ‘anti-hype’ surrounding Corporate Social Responsibility currently. "The whole thing is a superficial attempt by large corporations to ingratiate their target. Behind the scenes, they don’t give a damn." Hmmm...
So being charitable has got to be genuine, and that must come from the top levels of leadership. Too often, CSR is used as a tool to gain credibility and ramp up some brand love, rather than a heartfelt desire to do something for somebody else at cost to yourself. But it should be the other way around – and that way, the positive PR is just an added bonus.
If leading by example is the way to go, then White Cross Vets come up trumps. Their ‘Give Something Back’ program is actually a lot more than just another campaign. It is fuelled by their love of pets and their appreciation of the communities around them who provide these pets with a happy, healthy and safe environment.
Things like discounts to charities and emergency services, treating school pets free of charge and holding Donation Days where the company provides staff for charity.
Then they have their White Cross Vets Fund to support those in the community who can’t afford the proper vet care. They sponsor sports groups and teams, visit primary schools to educate children about pet care and contribute to fundraising events.
All these may seem small and pretty standard, but when you consider that the company is still relatively small then it’s clear that they are punching well above their weight in their efforts to Give Something Back.
What’s in it for you?
Do you have what it takes to be successful? It really isn’t that complicated – here are some basics:
Travel the customer journey yourself. Try stepping out of your own mind and into that of your customer for a bit. Experience for yourself the journey they take with your brand – is it painless? Or are there lumps, bumps and knockout blows? It's tough, but if you can cut out frustration and turn negatives into positives, you’re onto a winner;
People, People, People. Yes I know, it’s drummed into you all the time: ‘People buy from people’. But the simple fact is, it’s all too easy to forget in the corporate world of business. Are you encouraging individual personality and character? Are you empowering staff to make decisions and feel comfortable? Are you rewarding them generously? Get it right and you’ll attract the best staff and then the best customers;
Don’t be shy, it’s only growth. Well-managed, sustainable growth is a wonderful thing, but all too often we shy away from it. “What if customers think we’re making too much money?”; “Isn’t it a bit risky?”; “The market has slumped – it’s over-ambitious to aim for growth”. Sometimes it's right to be cautious. But consider it seriously and remember that growth is good for everyone – because success breeds success;
Why are you doing Corporate Social Responsibility? The key is in that last word. Yes, the pressure is on for everyone to take up the responsibility for our surroundings but if you treat it as an obligation rather than something genuinely from your heart then that’ll show through. If you’re struggling with this, why not look for a charity or cause that you genuinely care about? Why not consider setting up a fundraising scheme? Make it relevant and interesting so that the whole team buys in… that way, the customers will buy into it too.
Do you know of a brand that is successful? How can you learn from what they do well? Maybe you own or manage a brand and want to share your story. Share your insight with us here…
Sources: www.whitecrossvets.co.uk, www.b.co.uk, www.thesundaytimes.co.uk, Shutterstock (imagery) plus a good dose of my own personal opinions and experiences. This post is written by our marketing suit Simon Besley and doesn't necessarily reflect the views of the company; it's intended to be a helpful review to dissect what I think the brand does well, and how we can all learn from it. If it's helpful to you, then I'm happy...
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