Thursday, January 30, 2014

Be Unique

Be Unique

By Mohnish Nair

In today’s competitive world where price has become the deciding factor for driving sales and when customer loyalty seems to be at an all time low, there also exists a breed of business houses, brands and products that enjoy unbeatable customer fidelity and at the same time dictate prices on their own terms.

What makes a Harley bike so desirable? Why are you willing to pay 100 bucks for a cup of cappuccino at Starbucks but would never pay anything above 25 at your local udipi hotel? Look at Apple for instance, why are customers willing to stand in mile long queues on cold winter nights just to grab hold of a mobile phone and still pay a premium price that no other mobile company can even imagine to demand? The answer lies in what most businesses fail to discover and implement in their business, its all about being Unique!!

Creating the Experience

The success of a business is highly dependent on the core intention of the business. If it is only to make profits, then it may just end up doing that, bring profits, However, if your business and its delivery is designed around something beyond profits, something worthwhile for humanity to get excited about, then  you have found your calling. For example just have a look at the Mission statement of Starbucks. In reality it is just a coffee serving restaurant like millions of other such cafes but what makes Starbucks unique and attractive is its intention which is clearly reflected in its Mission statement -  Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. 

As clearly evident the intention is to contribute an experience in the customer’s life not just through a cup of coffee but to serve it with an electrifying ambiance, cheerful staff, and superior service thus making it desirous. The experience helps you unwind, run away from the rush of your maddening life to a secluded space of warmth, happiness and friendly banter. Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz explained to Oprah Winfrey in 2007, when he was serving as Chairman (not CEO), sales were plummeting and the stock was sinking. “We had lost our way,” he said. “The pursuit of profit became our reason for being and that’s not the reason that Starbucks is in business…we’re in the business of exceeding the expectations of our customers.” He returned as the CEO because of “love” and “passion” 

Creating loyalty

The note that strikes the loyalty chord with customers is customization. Be it Starbucks or Harley Davidson – The cruiser bike giant. What separates them from the crowd is their ability to cater to individual tastes and preferences, which makes their product highly desirable and unique. Harley Davidson is not a motorbike company. It’s a cult! It evokes the untamed masculinity in you. It pushes you to discover uncharted roads. It seduces you to ride towards freedom. It’s about being wild and adventurous. Now will you pay a premium to have all of the above? Yes sir! You will. This is the emotion that the brand inspires in its followers and that is what makes them timelessly iconic.  

Harley-Davidson was facing major problems, which included slumping sales, forcing them to restructure. They changed the production and management strategies and went on to continued success and growth. The turn around started in 1981 when a group of 13 Harley-Davidson executives led by Vaughn Beals bought the company. These new owners started the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) in an attempt to open lines of communication with the customers and bring them closer to the brand. This is known as an affinity group and it involves spending time, attention and money on existing owners. Every Harley buyer gets a free one-year membership and there are trips, parties, and special merchandise. The emotion of brotherhood, fraternity, machismo has lead to an enviable cult following worldwide. It’s all about asking the customers what they would like to have and then delivering the goods as per their personal liking. That’s customization.

Delivering Excellence

It is the obsession to deliver that which no one else can. The obsession to surpass all customer expectations and to delight and surprise the customer. The obsession to deliver excellence in a non compromising way is what drives the success of any product or company. It is this obsession to be above mediocrity and to give the customer a superior experience of using your product or dealing with you that creates an iconic success story. Apple through the vision of Steve jobs got all the above right and more. 

Most of Apple’s products have been recreations of existing products. Apple did not invent the MP3 player; Apple reinvented it and made it better. Apple did not invent the smart phone; Apple reinvented it and made it better. And Apple did not invent the tablet; Apple reinvented it and made it better. It is evident that Apple stays at least two years ahead of its competitors. While those competing with Apple are just getting products to market that are competitive, Apple is already working on the products at least two years ahead. Apple’s customer service and stores represent the gold standard for selling and supporting tech gadgets. Its all about delivering excellence.

To conclude as Howard Schultz of Starbucks puts it “What you do is different than what you’re passionate about. Your product is not your story. Your story is how the product improves the lives of your employees and your customers.”  
So my question to you is what business are you really in?