Transformation is no Monkey Business

The global financial climate is rather nervous these days, and companies are trying to understand what that means to their business. They are racing to find out how they can come out as a winner, rather than being dragged down by a slowing China, plummeting oil prices and increased currency volatility. Businesses may not be panicking, but they are certainly looking at ways to protect themselves from economic slowdown. This week, as we enter the Year of the Red Monkey, many Singaporean business owners would traditionally look to the horoscopes or listen to a fortune master to understand the auspicious events and signs that will affect their business.

Now, far be it from us to dismiss such activities as superstition, we fully respect the traditions of Chinese culture. Still, just in case the number 888 or avoiding wearing bright colours doesn’t work for you, we wanted to add some other thoughts on how to transform your business for the future and safeguard it from pending uncertainty. Since we’re not promoting horoscopes or fortune tellers, let’s instead look at who can really determine the future of a brand: The people who work there. Every single person in management, in marketing, in R&D/product development and other strategy-defining parts of a company has the power to make a difference. Ideas drive change, and ideas can come from anywhere. So instead of looking to the past, take the opportunity to transform now. Plan for growth, plan for success and plan for a way to stand out from the crowd. Here are our 5 strongest recommendations for the year to come:

1. Differentiation is everything
It is very tempting to look at others, and want to copy their success. We all do it, by studying our competitors, understanding what they do to gain success, and trying find a way to apply that to our own business. But this approach is almost guaranteed to fail. Firstly, what works for someone else may not be applicable to your business – even if you are in the same industry. There are hundreds of success factors, in the pure functional product features, the brand values, the brand perception, etc. Secondly, by following in someone’s footsteps, you will get lost in their shadow. Instead, differentiation is the key to successful brand building. Making sure you are not just one of many in your industry, but a stand-out in your own right, will ensure engagement and recall in the minds of the consumers (or B2B buyers). This may seem obvious, but we have entered into an era where products and services are becoming more and more similar. It has become very hard for consumers to see the difference between one credit card and another, one camera and another, one phone and another, one bank and another, and so on. The products are almost identical, the service levels are indistinguishable and the communication does not help people to see the difference. So to find a way to stand out from the crowd, you must identify the uniqueness that you can own. The most efficient way to do that is going the opposite direction of your competitors, build a brand that people can relate to and like – and speak to people in a way that makes them feel something and actually do something (first and foremost buy your products or services). If you’re message is similar to others, you won’t be heard. And if you’re not heard then people will not remember you. At all.

2. Stop focusing on yourself
Most companies are built on an idea that they have brought to the market. Whether that’s a product or a service, it is probably something that gets developed over time, changed, enhanced or improved to fit better with the customers wants and needs. And that is a great thing. But as you communicate these improvements or product benefits, you have to remember that it’s not about you. People don’t necessarily care about your technical improvements, your new packaging or even your better tasting product. They are far too busy focusing on their own lives. So when you keep talking about yourself, they block it out. People can’t be bothered with you and your brand. So brands have to focus on them. How the brands make them feel. What the brand can do to improve their lives. Or their social reputation. Or cooking skills. Or whatever relevant story you can tell them that they find interesting, engaging and that makes them feel good. Too many times, we’ve seen companies tout their technical benefits and not understand that all rational benefits can be taken by someone else. Your competitors can always be better, faster, tastier, smarter, prettier, etc. It’s not about that. Or more accurately, rational benefits are hygiene factors in your industry. If you don’t improve your product, you will most likely die. So, we’re not saying not to improve. But make your communication bigger than that. Make it about the life of your audience. Make it about something that engages them and enthrals them. Talk about them.

3. Use tomorrow’s ideas today
Technology is a fascinating thing. It changes lives on a daily basis, and continues to excite people every time a new milestone is past. In Singapore, we tend to be the first to take up new technologies, and we apply them to our everyday lives. Unfortunately, most brands have not followed suit. Brands are still ultra conservative, spending their money in print advertising, TV commercials, events and other offline activities (we are not saying any of these are wrong, but it can’t be the default choice anymore). Even when they advertise online, the approach is very often rooted in the old ways of blasting out a message, rather than creating a connection with the audience. In a study done by Econsultancy, brands say that personalisation is the most important factor in improving customer experience. The same thing goes for marketing. And through use of technology, you can actually make each interaction personal and relevant to each of your potential customers. And by applying technology in the way you do your business, you can differentiate your offering, make it more relevant, more efficient, cheaper and better. The whole customer experience improves with technology. Of course you still have to recognise that this is about people, not about technology. The Digital Transformation process is a customer-centric way to engage people and communicate with them on a personal level. It’s not about showing off new and shiny objects (or apps). In short, taking a Digital Transformation approach to your business is a sure-fire way to grow your company today and for the future.

4. Build on real knowledge
Ideas are brilliant, they can take you anywhere. But ideas that are pulled out of thin air may not be the best way to go. We strongly endorse the idea that creativity that is based on real insights and unique strategies, will take you the furthest. Talk to your target audience, talk to your stakeholders and talk to your current customers. They will give you invaluable information about your brand, your positioning and your future. Then look at the market trends in your industry, best practices from around the world and create a strategy that separates your brand from the pack. Running workshops and fact-finding missions can be very useful in this process. A lot of companies think that they’ve got the strategy part covered, but in reality many of these are either not strategies, but tactics, or focus on the wrong things. It all comes down to pushing products, ignoring the audience and doing the same as everyone else (be it CNY campaigns, summer sales, Christmas specials or silly competitions). A great strategy is found where emotional and rational truths meet. It grows where relevance overlaps with uniqueness. And it lives where customer needs and brand potential join together. If there are no clear goals, there cannot be a clear strategy. Most brands talk a lot about what they want to do, but very little about what they want to achieve. Start there, and amazing ideas will follow.

5. Make customer service and marketing two sides of the same coin
This is one of the most important changes many companies can do with almost immediate effect. We have previously written about how to fix customer service, and this is still one of the lowest hanging fruits in your business. If you see customer service as marketing, or a loyalty program or a up-sell/cross-sell opportunity, you show a comprehension of customer dynamics that few other companies are capable of. Even in its basic form – treating people like people – it will change the customer perception of your brand. In this age of social media, it’s even more important to ensure a great customer experience through all points of contacts. People talk. More when they are dissatisfied than when they are happy, but people recognise and promote brands that get customer service right. Whether you run a small restaurant or a global conglomerate, all it takes is a smile, some respect, focus on solutions rather than policies and standing up for fairness. Staff training is crucial, or else all the work may go down the drain, but again, teaching people to look for solutions rather than focusing on problems doesn’t take hours of seminars and training to get across. Find a flexible way to either solve things on the spot, or when necessary to escalate the issue and find a solution quickly and smoothly.

These are our recommendations for 2016. Of course there are many other ways to be successful today and in the near future. If you have ideas, questions or comments, do let us know in the comment section below.


Erik Ingvoldstad is the Managing Director of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticAgency
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[Main photo by vhines200, under CC]



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