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Employ a Think Excellence, Not Difference brand-building strategy

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Sep 27, 2016 • Eric Morgenstern • Blog

Thought Leadership



I recently had the honor of presenting my core philosophy of “Think Excellence, Not Difference” at the Kansas City Area Development Council’s (KCADC) Full Council Investor Briefing.

For those of you who were unable to attend Full Council, I’m revisiting a previous post on “Think Excellence, Not Difference.” As you’ll see below, this long-term, sustainable branding strategy isn’t about what you do differently than your competition, it’s about what makes you the best choice for your customers. 

I invite you to learn more about adopting a position of excellence and to reach out with any questions or comments.

Onward and upward.

Think Excellence, Not Difference

The marketplace is crowded and your customers constantly encounter opportunities to choose one of your competitors. In the past, companies gained customer share by focusing on differentiating their products and services. Today, your customers make buying decisions based on what’s best for them, not on how different the choices are from each other.

For example, customers don’t pick UPS delivery service because it has brown trucks that no one else does. They pick UPS because of what Brown can do for them. Similarly, customers don’t choose and stay with Allstate Insurance because it offers different rates than competitors. They stay with Allstate because they know they’re in good hands. Notice that neither company focuses on how their products stand out from their competition. Their claim isn’t uniqueness; it’s focusing on being the best choice for each customer’s needs.

So why do marketers foolishly spend so much time focusing on the differences of us versus them? For years, companies have held day-long strategy sessions to distinguish their “point of difference” — a position around which they build entire strategic marketing plans.

But the simple truth is: different isn’t better, different is just different. And you’re only “different” until your competition starts doing the same thing.

In today’s marketplace, smart leaders have to reinvent the rules of competition to meet consumers’ expectations and desire for the best product or service available. Your company must uncover what those expectations and desires are, what they mean to your company, and then create a plan to deliver excellence for your customers.

Defining excellence

Moving toward a position of excellence doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your company. Chances are, you are already doing something with excellence. You just have to figure out how to fully capitalize on that excellence.

According to Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, excellence means “being of the very best quality; exceptionally good.” Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary puts it this way, “surpassing others in some good quality or the sum of qualities; of great worth.”

Defining your excellence requires realizing your brand is not always what you believe it to be, but what your customers believe it to be. Their perceptions are most important because your brand ultimately lives in the inches between the ears of the people who matter most to you. The definition of your brand comes to life in how customers talk about you to their colleagues and friends, if they recommend you, and how they relate what you’re saying to what you’re actually doing. And each individual, each customer, knows his or her own definition of excellence.

It stands to reason that exploring how your customers define excellence is the key place to start. In doing so, you become the beneficiary of new ideas on ways to stay innovative, valued and excellent in your customers’ minds. Remember, your customers’ opinions are the only ones that really matter.

To determine how their customers define excellence, savvy professionals start by asking their customers the “Three Magic Questions,” created by Barnett Helzberg, founder of HEMP. These questions are simple, yet reliable and revealing:

  • What are we doing that you like?
  • What are we doing that you don't like?
  • What do you wish we were doing that we're not?

Take opportunities to meet with your customers face-to-face and give them chances to provide immediate, top-of-mind feedback. Your customers want to be heard and feel valued. The conversation itself makes your customers feel appreciated and respected—the basis of any good relationship. They will provide honest and substantive information. In short, they will provide you with their definition of excellence. All you have to do is actively listen to learn what you’re doing right, what you can do better, and what you can add to provide additional value to customers.

Living excellence

Armed with new insights, you can now build upon your position of excellence. This includes everything from developing new programs to retraining your staff. You may need to make only minor adjustments, or you may undergo complete operational shifts, all depending on your customers' definition of your excellence. With this new position as your base, you can develop key messages that clearly and simply embody your company and its services.

The examples of UPS and Allstate are emblematic of an effective "message of excellence." Both are aware their services are similar to their competitors. But they strive to achieve excellence in a way their customers want. That's what makes their brand positioning so successful and sustainable. At Morningstar Communications we use, "Clarify. Connect. Change." It speaks to how our clients define our excellence, and it resonates.

The next step: Proactive integrated communications

The essential next step in your evolution is to communicate your new key message of excellence consistently, methodically and effectively. By infusing it into your brand, your message of excellence becomes the DNA of your story.

You’ve already defined what makes your organization excellent, so you have your key message(s). Remember, this is not necessarily what makes you different. Now, you’re ready to instill that excellence in every form of communication to each key audience. And if you’re like most companies, you have several different, but key audiences, such as employees, customers, prospects, and community and industry leaders.

To ensure you’re consistent with your excellence message, perform an “integrated marketing communications audit,” which helps to review all the various communication tools in use. Look at direct mail pieces, website copy, marketing collateral, presentation and sales materials, RFP responses, social media and advertising.

Do they all look, feel and sound the same? Do they all appear to come from the same company? And finally, do they all efficiently communicate your message of excellence? If you can achieve this level of consistency for your brand, you’ll see that you’re building your brand identity, allowing key people to recognize, remember and relay your message.

Soon, you’ll find your message of excellence resonating with your audience. They respond, not because you created an arbitrary definition of what makes you “different,” but because you provided them with what meets their needs. And when it’s all said and done, you’ll be surprised to learn that by focusing on excellence, you did an amazing thing—you created a new point of difference, one that actually matters to those who matter most to you—your customers.