Words, Words, Words

Greetings.  It's the start of a new week and a great time to focus on what it takes to deliver compelling value to the customers, citizens, members, and associates we serve.  And to help us think about what really matters, let's begin by checking out the websites of your leading competitors.  If they're like most of the companies and organizations out there, they are probably making some remarkable claims using phrases like the following:

  • "We use only the latest and best technology."
  • "We have the most dedicated and experienced people."
  • "We offer the highest quality products, services, and solutions."
  • "We are real innovators."
  • "We have the best systems and infrastructure to support your needs."
  • "We provide award-winning customer service."
  • "We go the extra mile and do whatever it takes."
  • "We stand behind everything we do."
  • "We are perfect partners."

All phrases intended to capture the hearts, minds, and checkbooks of current and potential customers.  But are they anything more than simply "words" designed to peak interest?  After all, who wouldn't be excited to do business with a company or organization that offered so much value?  And, are these claims really true in tangible and meaningful ways–ways that actually ensure that customers will get the results they deserve?  Or are they simply PR buzzwords that organizations feel obliged to say because everyone else does–even if they are so much bat guano? Besides, no one wants to admit that they:

  • "Use completely outdated technology that isn't right for any of your requirements."
  • "Have the most inexperienced and unskilled staff in our industry who would be working somewhere else if they had better training."
  • "Offer truly mediocre products, services, and solutions that are unreliable on a good day."
  • "Haven't had a new idea in years."
  • "Have systems that are poorly designed, ineffective, and prone to crash at the most inopportune times."
  • "Provide little or no competent customer support and are eager to drive you crazy until you beg for mercy."
  • "Do the minimum amount possible just to get by."
  • "Stand so far behind our offerings that you will need the Hubble Telescope to find us in the event of a problem."
  • "Couldn't collaborate successfully if our lives depended on it."

These statements would certainly make for an awesomely humorous and possibly more honest marketing and sales pitch.  But don't expect to see them on a website or in a brochure any time soon.

Words 1 

Our words matter because they are the promise of our commitment to deliver real value to those we serve.  A promise that is not to be taken lightly.

Some companies hope that their words will win new business.  Others chose their words to inspire greater curiosity, genius, and innovation in order to become the best possible company in their industry.  What words do you use and do you really stand behind them?  And, what will you do this week and in all the weeks ahead to turn your words into the new ideas and value your customers deserve?

Cheers!

What, Me Woori?

Greetings.  It's hard not to worry in these uncertain economic times.  Even as the stock market shows signs of rebounding, many of us remain somewhat concerned about the best place to put our money–i.e., the money we have left after the current economic crisis.  And our collective confidence in banks has definitely eroded.  In fact, it's hard to remember the name of a bank that has received positive press in the past year!  And it's equally hard to find a friend or colleague who adores their bank.  Which seems to suggest an industry that is ripe for genius, innovation, and delivering more compelling value to customers.  All of this makes the name of one of the newest financial institutions in our area somewhat interesting to the casual observer–"Woori America Bank."  Because it strikes me that most Americans are already pretty darn worried about banking.

But a bit of investigation indicates that this growing bank, which caters to Korean Americans and small and medium-size Korean-owned businesses, has attracted a loyal and growing customer base.  And its formula is relatively simple tied to the needs of its particular market niche.  It offers the right set of products along with courteous service, speaks the customer language or languages, and is willing to collateralize loans with real estate in Korea.  And in Korean its name actually means "Our" America Bank which is a simple and compelling name to use when trying to connect with "our" people.  Quite a bit more powerful, one might argue, than what use to be the typical American bank name–something like "First National Providential Interstate Covenant Fidelity Independent Bank and Trust." Names that once stood for stability and financial soundness, but in recent years have come to represent bad loans, greed, and bailouts.  

So what the heck.  Woori me all you want, as long as you protect my money and treat me with the respect I deserve as a customer.

Woori Bank
 

We succeed in business or any organization by knowing who we serve and speaking their language in ways that really matter.  Who are you trying to connect with, and is your message as clear and compelling as possible?  If not, you might have something to worry about.

Cheers!

“Sustainable Competitive Advantage”

Greetings.  While we're on the topic of what it takes to stand out from the pack, find time to read and think about Seth Godin's blog and his post yesterday on how companies can create sustainable competitive advantage:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/10/creating-sustainable-competitive-advantage.html

If you're not familiar with Seth, his blog, or his many books, I think you will really enjoy them.  He is a very insightful marketer with a real gift for understanding and explaining how to connect with customers and how to build a powerful and valued brand.  If I could put even five percent of his ideas into practice, I would be viewed as a real genius.

Cheers!

Thriving in a “Sea of Sameness”

Greetings.  If you're like most companies and organizations, one of the biggest challenges you face is setting yourself apart from the pack in powerful ways that really matter to your customers and prospects.  And it doesn't matter if you offer a high-technology product or a low-technology service.  Over time, even the hottest products and services start to look and act alike–and that means trouble for your top-line, bottom-line and eventually your entire business.  Unless, of course, you are extremely thoughtful and consistently innovative.  

We all know that services are relatively easy to copy.  But even the most brilliant products can be copied too–either before or after they lose their patent protection. In fact, very few businesses are immune from the threat of becoming a commodity –forced to battle over price on a slippery slope that leads to marginal value and irrelevance.  This problem poses a real challenge in many industries from heavy equipment used to produce and refine oil to coffeehouses, IT services and even high-end hotels.  And in each case very solid companies with proud histories are forced to swim in a "sea of sameness."  This is a wonderful but slightly painful phrase I learned from working with a world-class hospitality company.  In their case, the distinction between hotel "products" began to blur as hotels of different brands started to all look and feel the same.  Their lobbies looked the same, their rooms looked the same, their fancy beds promising a perfect night's sleep looked and felt the same and all had super-dreamy names.  Even their food and beverage offerings looked and often tasted the same, and so did many of their basic features of customer service.  And given that their "products" were all offered through a set of similar sales channels, customers could easily compare availability and price and opt for the best value.  As a result, customers were often willing to give up their loyalty to a particular brand given a growing belief that "comparable" brands were essentially the same.

Hotel Sign

So how do you compete in a sea of sameness?  By being compelling different on the dimensions that really matter to those customers you choose to serve…  

  • By having a different and better understanding of their needs and what they hope to accomplish.  
  • By designing products, services and solutions that produce a significantly better result.  
  • By making the customer smarter and more successful.  
  • By delivering peace of mind.  
  • By being faster when it matters.  
  • By truly being available 24/7.  
  • By helping them to anticipate danger before it happens.
  • By eliminating down time.
  • By creating new opportunities for them.
  • By giving them the lifestyle they desire.  
  • By making them healthier and even younger.  
  • By creating an experience that was unlike any other in a way that mattered most.

Try to imagine a hotel that could make you healthier with each visit.  Or an oil rig that continually made itself more efficient and productive.  Or a local coffeehouse that taught its customers a foreign language or anything else they wanted to learn. Or a data warehouse that delivered real time business intelligence as it organized and improved a customer's data.   

We use to win by creating a killer product, application or solution that worked better than anyone else's.  But that's not good enough anymore. Now its all about results, and redefining the very nature of unique and authentic customer experiences that can achieve them.  

And by constantly doing less of the same.   

Cheers!

Think Big!

Greetings.  Driving back from a speech in Myrtle Beach I passed an amazingly curious sign.  At least it was amazingly curious to me, though I can only assume that most people fail to give it a second thought.  The sign read "ILM International Airport, Next Exit" indicating that I was only a mile from the exit for Wilmington (North Carolina) International Airport.  Upon returning to my office that evening I discovered that this relatively small and apparently well-run regional airport, with seemingly global ambitions, offered nonstop service to the following five destinations: Atlanta, Charlotte, New York, Philadelphia and Orlando/Sanford.  

Now I realize that most Americans aren't particularly knowledgeable about world geography.  Though I'm reasonably certain that readers of this blog will know that Atlanta is in the state and not the country of Georgia.  But still, isn't it a bit strange that it is possible to be an international airport without having a single flight directly to another country?  Sure we can change planes in all of these other cities and hop on an international flight, but it's not like we're the gateway to a world of foreign capitals.  In fact, we're not even the gateway to a American city west of the western corner of North Carolina.  Which kind of  makes us "international" by association.  Though it certainly beats being guilty by association.

Of course, I'm pulling your leg a bit just to get you thinking about two important ideas.  The first is that geography matters and we can–if we are honest and clever–use it to our advantage.  After all, we live in an ever-shrinking world and the people who understand its dynamics and opportunities best–not to mention where every place actually is–are at a distinct advantage.  Second, that big aspirations are often essential to getting on any map.  And the folks at ILM have chosen to be bold instead of choosing to be nowhere.  After all, who in their right mind wants to travel to and from nowhere.

ILM Airport

Next time you're trying to do a better job of putting your company or organization on the map, think about your new friends in Wilmington, North Carolina, and what it takes to think big!  Then imagine how easy it actually is to be a "global" organization.  And for a bit more fun, you might even try to imagine what it would take to be an "intergalactic" organization.  

Being on the map matters.  Being at the center of the map is really powerful.  What are you and your company or organization doing to make the map of your industry revolve around you?

Cheers!