Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle …

Markets today operate in a vicious circle of increasing assumption. The more companies deliver, the more customers expect.

Business as expected is all the things you must do to confirm your place in the crowd. All that effort doesn’t inspire loyalty, it doesn’t even change the relationship, because it doesn’t change the way you’re seen. And yet it’s a critical underpin. If this part isn’t right, nothing works. We could probably debate how important this “constant and consistent improvement” element is, and it probably varies according to sectors, but I’m going to suggest that it constitutes 70 – 85% of a deeply competitive brand.

The remaining 15 – 30% is less predictable. It has to be, because what really alters how much you are valued is what you deliver that’s surprising. Business as unexpected are those things that your customers actually want but may not even have realised they wanted – until they were presented with them. A surprise could be an idea they agree with that no-one else in the sector champions, an attitude that truly engages them, an innovation that they want to make their own, or new ways of working.

Keep surprising. There’s money and market share in “surprises”.

Stone Yamashita have this idea that I keep coming back to – because it’s a concept that I see so much potential in for creating just such surprises. Innovate in the experience, they say, and everything else can follow. That’s because there’s an intersection with what people know about you – and yet there’s a new development that then adds more than people just expected. Logical – and yet surprising, because no-one else had gone there.

Every breakout is a victory. And yet it’s momentary. Because the time lapse between surprising and expected, especially with experiences, shrinks and commoditises quickly. “Big bang” experience innovation is now pretty much a thing of the past. The brands that stay noticed are those that tweak not just what they deliver, but how, continuously rather than looking to revolutionise their experiences in a glorious smash of light. Thank the “upgrade culture” for that. More and more, customers hunt ongoing improvements to what they know.

The lesson for brand owners and managers? Don’t look for one big way to shine. Look for many smaller ways to twinkle.

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