Stop trying to be the best at everything

Successful firms take a focused path, choosing one attribute to dominate on, one attribute to differentiate on and aim for parity on the rest.

Consumers only care about five things

  • Access, Product, Price, Service and Emotion are the attributes that consumers use to value your organisation and your product, nothing else is of concern to them. When these five attributes are taken together, they form the essence of the customer experience. Each attribute can be defined as follows:
  • Access is about the ease of finding, interacting and contacting you. For example, access would relate to the geographical coverage of stores and the ability to move seamlessly between channels. How easy is it for a consumer to engage with your organisation?
  • Consumers care about product in terms of your organisation’s portfolio i.e. the breadth and depth of the product range as well as quality and performance. Does the product do what it claims to do, does it have the reliability that is expected from the brand and are your customers getting real value?
  • Service is more than aftersales and includes advice, support and flexibility. It is about being responsive, having expertise and being proactive. Are the customer’s needs fully met?

It is not just about the Price level, but also about pricing consistency, transparency and value for money. Consumers want to be able to trust your organisation as a price benchmark. It’s less about how cheap is it and more about is it a fair and honest price?

There are two aspects to Emotion: external emotion comprises elements such as brand image, look and feel, whereas internal emotion comprises how the individual is respected and valued. Is the customer proud of the brand and do they feel they are treated as a valued individual, thereby wining their trust?

Dominate on one attribute, Differentiate on another and maintain Parity on the rest
The same advice applies for organisations pursuing excellence as it does to people: “become famous for something”, “niche down” and “focus on your strengths”. In the same way, organisations must choose which attributes to focus on, otherwise they will fail or overinvest.

Simply, organisations must choose one area to dominate on, one area to differentiate on and aim for parity on the rest. Domination is when the customer not only prefers it to the competition, but will actively seek it out. An organisation differentiates when the customer prefers its brand over another. A company is at parity when its offering is at the industry par and customers are willing to use them for routine purchases. Anything less than parity on any attribute will cause brand damage.

Take Bungie, the acclaimed video game developer as a recent example. Fans queued overnight last month to be one of the first to get their hands on the release of new game Destiny:

Bungie dominates the product attribute so much so that fans queued overnight for a completely new game, purely on the strength of Bungie’s reputation for its products (e.g. Halo). It is on the emotion attribute that Bungie differentiates as it is a preferred brand for gamers with one of those queuing for Destiny stating that he did so because “the developers Bungie attracted me to it.”

Bungie has not tried to be the best on the access, price or service front – these are all on at parity with other video game producers, but no more. But they have successfully focused their efforts on product and emotion. If they had tried to excel on all attributes, then resources would have been drawn away from programming, resulting in an inferior product or an even greater budget than the £310m spent, putting profitability at risk.

Physician, heal thyself
For organisations wanting to achieve success by being actively sought after and preferred by consumers, then it is critical to have a laser-like focus on what you will dominate and differentiate on. At MessageBase ( we have adopted this approach ourselves and we now dominate on access and differentiate on product. That means we have committed to being ultra-responsive to customers, helping them understand call answering with simple, clear explanations and back this up with a full and customisable product range.

We implemented this by taking our vision and deciding how we would achieve that vision by dominating and differentiating on two attributes. Then we defined what were the principles behind those attributes. Finally, we applied those principles to each customer journey for people, process and tools/technology.

Currently we are helping other organisations improve their service attribute, by ensuring each and every client call is answered and handled as if we’re sitting beside them. As a result we are increasing our clients’ profitability and helping them improve their customer experience.

By Nicholas Ashford, Director, MessageBase