The Most Overlooked Source of Competitive Advantage -

The Most Overlooked Source of Competitive Advantage

It is remarkable how music has the power to set your state of mind. I was sitting at my desk in my home office, my window overlooking our backyard pond, yet my mind was so filled with to-do lists, loose ends, upcoming meetings, and emails I haven’t returned that I didn’t think to look outside.

Then I turned on Focus@Will’s “Zen Piano” (a service that delivers personalized music designed to put you into the zone) and suddenly I noticed, for the first time, the reflection of the sky on the pond waves, and ripples from ducks paddling and turtles surfacing.

A minute ago, I was blind to this beauty.

The only thing that changed was the music.

Such is the power of physical experience. Yet most of us underappreciate the power it can have on ourselves … and our customers.

Focus on physical experience

When we are designing a new business or product, there are eight areas that we should think about, known as the 8Ps – position, product, promotion, place, pricing, process, people, and physical experience. But we tend to focus on the first seven while overlooking what could actually be the most important one.

We typically ask, “What is the perfect product or brand we can create that people will perceive as attractive?”

But to only focus on that question is to overlook a far more important set of questions. If you consider that your customers will ultimately perceive your brand, product, or marketing messages, or any element of your business model, through their five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – then the most important questions and choices should center around your customer’s physical experience.

What we are talking about here is being intentional in the physical experience you create for your customers. When you order coffee at Starbucks, they look you in the eye. When your daughter checks in at a Disney resort, they welcome her as a “princess.” These are not coincidences. They are designed and executed intentionally … consistently.

Prioritize a point of differentiation

Many B2B companies think physical experience is less relevant than the other seven Ps. But even if this were the truth – which it is not – this should have you prioritize physical experience more, not less. Your competitors – who think physical experience is unimportant for the engineer choosing a gear or the mechanic selecting an oil filter – will ignore this gateway into the mind of your customer, giving you uncontested access to a point of differentiation.

For example, in working with a team that built landing gears for airplanes, we heard them say that of all the dimensions of competition – brand, product, pricing, distribution, etc. – physical experience was either the least relevant or irrelevant. So, we chose THAT dimension as the one to explore.

Forced to consider how this company might differentiate itself through physical experience, they began considering the experience of the engineer installing the landing gear. They thought about the moment in which the purchasing manager decides whether to buy a new landing gear from the official manufacturer (our client) or a less expensive generic brand – when the purchasing manager asks the engineer, who responds that our client’s gear may be more expensive but is more than worth it.

What physical experience would lead to this scenario?

This unlocked a flood of ideas. Could they print bright arrows and instructions on the packaging to make it clear how to install the gear? Could they add some kind of marker on the wheel or gear informing the engineer it was time to replace it?

They implemented some of the ideas, differentiated their product, and started winning out to the less expensive generic brands.

Conclusion

Ask these three questions to explore how you can differentiate yourself by innovating your customers’ physical experience:

  1. Who is the buyer that most impacts the decision to use you (e.g., the child who tells their parent which cereal to buy; the engineer who tells the purchasing manager which landing gear to choose)?
  2. What are the key moments in their experience in which they cement in their mind which brand to choose (e.g., the cereal runs out; they open the box to install the landing gear)?
  3. How might you innovate their physical experience at that moment – what they see, smell, hear, taste, or touch?

These three steps may reveal some critical ideas in which to innovate your customers’ physical experience and leapfrog your competition by innovating in an area too many overlook.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

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