What the Walking Dead taught me about the future of consumer loyalty

The digital revolu­tion has eroded my atten­tion span. It’s made me impa­tient. It’s satur­ated my waking hours with distrac­tions, media, advert­ising, and content. I live in a constant barrage of stuff, vying for my atten­tion around the clock.

But I’m start­ing to fight back. I don’t want to just react to what’s pushed at me. So I’m reclaim­ing my focus and my choice.

I’m becom­ing more discrim­in­at­ing in where I choose to spend my time and atten­tion. Frequently, that means choos­ing not to engage, to view, to consume.

And I’m coming to real­ise that I have the same control when it comes to brands, too. I’m in control. I have more choice than ever over where I spend my time and money.

And I think, maybe, this is the begin­ning of a revolu­tion. Let’s explore.

There’s more stuff than ever

We live in an age when there are more films, tele­vi­sion series and books being produced than ever before – and the rise of new plat­forms and medi­ums has made the cost and effort to create, distrib­ute and monet­ize content lower than it’s ever been.

IMDB, films per year, via https://​www​.quora​.com/​H​o​w​-​m​a​n​y​-​f​i​l​m​s​-​a​r​e​-​p​r​o​d​u​c​e​d​-​e​a​c​h​-​y​ear

The old guard – the tv networks, theatres and the Hollywood produc­tion line – still wield incred­ible budgets and influ­ence (and are, argu­ably, still the de-​facto hubs for main­stream media). However, we’re increas­ingly seeing that the creation, consump­tion and success of content is becom­ing more demo­crat­ised and widely distrib­uted.

Specifically, plat­forms like Amazon’s e‑book ecosys­tem, YouTube, Spotify, Patreon and Kickstarter enable indi­vidu­als and inde­pend­ents to create and take their ideas directly to market. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (to name just a few) can connect that content directly to audi­ences, whilst also acting as a natural qual­ity filter to surface the best mater­ial.

Conventional ‘produc­tion line’ content models, eg., rely­ing on studios and publish­ers, are being disrup­ted by inde­pend­ents taking advant­ages of new routes to market.

At the other end of the scale, the big digital content plat­forms – like Netflix and Amazon Video – are increas­ingly using their budgets and intel­li­gence to produce designed-​for-​purpose media. Engineered, data-​driven and guaranteed-​to-​perform content is being produced at a higher volume than ever before. They’re getting smarter, and more consumer-​centric.

So there’s not only more content, but in theory it’s getting better – review ecosys­tems, social propaga­tion and peer review mech­an­ics, and the intel­li­gent use of big data and machine learn­ing processes are breed­ing compet­i­tion and qual­ity.

We’re satur­ated with stor­ies.

The importance of differentiation

Yet, the theory goes that there are only seven (or maybe nine) types of story, and that most films (and games) follow an almost identical structure. It suggests that all storytelling is derived from a hand­ful of basic tropes, which are sliced, diced and recycled.

That means that, even with a prolific amount of new content being created, regard­less of qual­ity and target­ing, it’s all largely… samey.

One of the nine basic story types, from http://​www​.how​-to​-write​-​a​-book​-now​.com/​b​a​s​i​c​-​p​l​o​t​s​.​h​tml

It means that Romeo & Juliet, Dune, House of Cards, Game of Thrones and Star Wars are all shad­ows of the same kind of “boy meets girl” story frame­work, and only really separ­ated in the details.

Even beyond the obvi­ous examples (like how closely Avatar resembles Pocahontas), a brief explor­a­tion of the TV Tropes website, for example, quickly reveals just how repet­it­ive and indis­tinct our media often is.

Much of the meat of our content, whether it’s a film, a book or some other format, is just… filler.

That means that, frequently, most of our content exper­i­ence is largely undif­fer­en­ti­ated. The story itself is just a neces­sary vehicle to deliver a payoff.

In fact, it’s only the use of, for example, differ­ent perspect­ives, an unex­pec­ted twist, or a combin­a­tion of produc­tion tech­niques which separ­ates Star Trek from Star Wars. These stor­ies are often, at a macro level at least, very similar. They’re construc­ted from the same kinds of build­ing blocks, then given differ­ent treat­ment.

What makes us inter­ested, divides us, compels us to discuss, and turns us into content evan­gel­ists are the elements which are differ­ent in the content which we enjoy.

Our excited conver­sa­tions about Star Wars and Star Trek rarely focus on how they both feature plan­ets, or that they’re set in space – rather, we pick out and cham­pion the elements which surprised, shocked, amused, or other­wise reson­ated with us, which made the content stand out from the crowd.

And whilst context often plays a role in these pref­er­ences – where a film, a book, a work of art or a piece of music might gain dispro­por­tion­ate cut-​through because of factors like time, place, or culture – these scen­arios are hard to delib­er­ately engin­eer, and are often only appar­ent as the cata­lyst for success in hind­sight.

The thing which matters – which increases the chance of content being broadly consumed, shared, distrib­uted and commer­cially success­ful – is differ­en­ti­ation.

Finite attention, and infinite choice

Increasingly, in a world satur­ated with media, I find myself crav­ing differ­en­ti­ation. I’m bored of samey content.

I imagine that in a time with less media, I might have been less picky. I might have happily sat through a long film for a compar­ably aver­age payoff.

But now, with all of these options, I’m discov­er­ing that my time has a price.

In fact, there are films produced as recently as in the 90’s (say, The Sixth Sense, with its famous twist) which I don’t think I’d bother watch­ing if they were produced now. I wonder if the value exchange of my time and atten­tion for the limited payoff – when there’s other media avail­able, and I have more choice – would feel like it was worth it.

For the same reason, I’m a few seasons behind on The Walking Dead, and I gave up on Stranger Things after only a few epis­odes. In both cases, in my opin­ion, at least, it’s because too much of the story feels like filler. There’s a lot of repe­ti­tion of old tropes and time spent invest­ing in a slow build towards some­thing – for a theor­et­ical payoff – which may never come, or might not be worth it when it arrives.

I’m bored of wait­ing for a twist, a clever idea, or a unique plot device which I might have been able to have got else­where, more easily. In fact, I’ve come to consciously resent the time I’ve put in so far, for what I’ve got out. And so I’ll watch, read, or consume some­thing else, in the hopes of a better effort to reward ratio. There’s plenty out there.

I also concede that my beha­viour may be, in part or whole, the result of an erod­ing atten­tion span – that the barrage of YouTube videos, click­bait articles and cat memes has made me less patient, and has condi­tioned me to expect an imme­di­ate (but shal­low, and precisely engin­eered) payoff – but even if that’s the case, it doesn’t change the outcome. The prin­ciples are the same. If I don’t feel like I’m getting value (or if the prom­ise of the value exchange feels imbal­anced), then I’ll look else­where.

And whilst I’m not enjoy­ing, bought into or commit­ted to my current exper­i­ence, I’m more recept­ive to other ideas. I’m more inclined to actively explore, research and consider other options. I’m more likely to seek peer review and recom­mend­a­tions or to respond to advert­ising and direct market­ing. I’ll seek out new options which prom­ise surprise, delight, and differ­en­ti­ation.

That’s the sali­ent point – I have choice. If the value exchange isn’t right, I’ll choose to go else­where. In the world of content and media, for the organ­isa­tions and indi­vidu­als who produce it, my loyalty (i.e, my sustained pref­er­ence) is the battle­ground.

It’s the same with products and services

The thing is, I suspect that this beha­viour isn’t radic­ally differ­ent to how I inter­act with many brands and organ­isa­tions. I’m impa­tient. I’m look­ing for value. I’m seek­ing differ­en­ti­ation.

This is crucial in an age where the cost and threshold of entry to market is ever decreas­ing (with lower­ing costs of stor­age and trans­port, the commodi­fic­a­tion of data processing, new plat­forms and mech­an­isms for enga­ging with consumers, etc). As a result a prolif­er­a­tion of new and small busi­nesses has created more choice for the consumer than ever before.

New compan­ies registered in the UK (repres­ent­at­ive of broader, global patterns) from 2004 to 2014, http://data.worldbank.org/

So, in the same way that there are only a finite number of types of story, I posit that there may only be a limited number of types of busi­ness.

This has signi­fic­ant implic­a­tions on how we should design, create and manage brands, and how we as consumers inter­act with them in our lives.

Most businesses are functionally the same

Regardless of what differ­en­ti­ates a company behind the scenes (e.g., the organ­isa­tional struc­ture, oper­a­tional processes, and tradi­tional USPs, etc), as a consumer I only engage with the tip of the iceberg; the moments of truth where I research, consider, and purchase (or convert).

So for the most part, consumer exper­i­ences are compar­able and largely undis­tin­guished beyond the type of busi­ness and plat­form (e.g. all fash­ion ecom­merce websites are gener­ally compar­able, but are distinctly differ­ent to the exper­i­ence of visit­ing an elec­tron­ics retail store – which in turn are largely compar­able).

Category pages for ‘jeans’ from three major high street fash­ion ecom­merce retail­ers.

Because, within any given sector, the product and propos­i­tion of each company is gener­ally construc­ted from the same basic build­ing blocks (e.g., price, market, product type, colour, size, etc), and the only real differ­ence is – again – the treat­ment and present­a­tion. These organ­isa­tions and their propos­i­tions are largely undif­fer­en­ti­ated.

And, because of this – as with my choice in which media and content I consume – I’m getting picky about which brands I invest my time (and money) with.

In the same way that watch­ing yet another cheesy vampire film makes me crave a new or excit­ing plot device, eval­u­at­ing the product and propos­i­tion of yet another identical insur­ance company makes me crave differ­en­ti­ation in what I buy and the services I use.

Consumer loyalty is key

In a satur­ated market, consumer choice determ­ines who wins and who loses. Brands need to attract new prospects, and to retain exist­ing custom­ers if they wish to main­tain and to grow market share.

But as with our media and content choices, it’s differ­en­ti­ation which determ­ines the brands we choose, or the brands we continue to shop with.

Whilst hard limit­a­tions like price, avail­ab­il­ity, and prox­im­ity still frequently play a role in our research and decision-​making processes, the digital revolu­tion erodes these tradi­tional USPs – these are yesterday’s differ­en­ti­at­ors, and their time is limited.

Because, increas­ingly, everything’s avail­able every­where: all the time, on demand, at a compar­able price. When all else is equal, the brand I choose to engage with will be the one which surprises, delights, compels, or reson­ates with me.

A vision of a world satur­ated with augmen­ted real­ity layers and advert­ising, where everything is avail­able, every­where, all the time. From hyper​-real​ity​.co.

Brands which are undif­fer­en­ti­ated – or who are trad­ing on legacy USPs – risk compet­ing only on price, or slip­ping into being little more than a list­ing on a compar­ison website.

I should point out that, for some brands, that’s okay – brands which are designed to compete on price in commod­i­fied market­places and compar­ison sites can still do well, fight­ing to grab consumers atten­tion and cash, but not neces­sar­ily their loyalty. Often, they rely on capit­al­ising on scen­arios where brands have failed to gain consumer loyalty, or oper­ate in vertic­als where differ­en­ti­ation is some­times less import­ant than cost.

However, many brands – partic­u­larly those who seek and value longev­ity and sustain­able growth – are real­ising that they need to invest in the loyalty of their exist­ing and poten­tial new consumers.

Because low levels of loyalty make audi­ences more suscept­ible to compet­it­ive advances from other providers, or – as with our media choices – increases the like­li­hood that they will actively seek altern­at­ives.

High levels of loyalty, however, can raise the threshold at which I might other­wise become suscept­ible to compet­it­ive messaging, and might also mitig­ate against past or future undif­fer­en­ti­ated exper­i­ences. High loyalty will forgive fric­tion, or disap­point­ment, and stops me switch­ing when I’m price-​sensitive.

In the same way that I might forgive a beloved author if I’m disap­poin­ted with a book in a partic­u­lar series, I’m more likely to forgive a brand for a poor product or exper­i­ence when I’ve built up trust and loyalty over time.

Businesses need to tell a story beyond just reflect­ing their abil­ity to fulfill demand for a reas­on­able price with reas­on­able conveni­ence – loyalty born from conveni­ence or commod­ity only lasts until another brand is more conveni­ent.

As products and services become increas­ingly commod­i­fied, and as markets get busier and nois­ier, differ­en­ti­ation is one of the only scal­able, last­ing tools which busi­nesses can use to attract new custom­ers and to grow loyalty. Differentiation is, by defin­i­tion, how you stand out.

Standing out

To fail to stand out is to be over­looked by consumers as they research and choose the brands they’ll build rela­tion­ships with.

Of course, whilst it’s easy to state that busi­nesses need to be unique, inter­est­ing and differ­en­ti­ated, the real­ity is that creat­ing and main­tain­ing that distinc­tion is chal­len­ging. Traditional compan­ies in partic­u­lar – those built on the back of tradi­tional USPs – may struggle to identify or create distin­guish­ing factors which set them aside from their compet­it­ors.

Surprisingly, though, many long­stand­ing organ­isa­tions who appear undis­tin­guished on the surface, hide surpris­ing stor­ies and values which they simply fail to bring to the market.

Some years ago, I consul­ted for a seem­ingly generic insur­ance company. It turned out that, as a minor feature, they auto­mat­ic­ally increased the value of goods they covered in your home during the fest­ive period, to account for you stor­ing friends and relat­ives gifts. But this was only mentioned in the small-​print to exist­ing custom­ers. That’s differ­en­ti­ated, but lost in the noise.

Similarly, a home improve­ment company who marketed entirely on price made the same misstep. They produced a product of such a high qual­ity that the industry ratings system had to be frequently revised to reflect their value; this inform­a­tion barely featured as a foot­note, too late in the conversion funnel to win the hearts and minds of high-​funnel research­ers.

My point is that, maybe, differ­en­ti­ation isn’t neces­sar­ily that rare. Maybe it just needs extract­ing and putting into the spot­light. Businesses need to look inwards and discover the ideo­lo­gies, features and prin­ciples which can make them stand out.

Because, in a crowded market of largely similar busi­nesses, you only need to be better than your compet­it­ors. That might be as simple as having less fric­tion than other options, having better customer service, or more stream­lined processes than others.

That level of differ­en­ti­ation is almost always achievable, even if what you sell or do isn’t unique.

“How to come up with a value propos­i­tion when what you sell isn’t unique”, from conversionxl.com

But there’s a risk to differ­en­ti­at­ing. By high­light­ing and posi­tion­ing your­self as some­thing differ­ent, you risk alien­at­ing some of your poten­tial audi­ence.

Everything to everyone = Nothing to anyone

In the same way that I have pref­er­ences and biases towards the kind of films, music and books I enjoy, the same applies to the brands in my life.

Personally, for example, I’ll natur­ally grav­it­ate towards brands which util­ise clever tech­no­logy, or those which have syner­gies with other brands or products which I have rela­tion­ships with. Conversely, I’ll avoid many life­style, fitness and ‘sporty’ brands because their messaging or storytelling often fails to reson­ate with me.

Differentiation, by its very nature, attracts or repel consumers with differ­ent pref­er­ences. and will do so with vary­ing degrees of impact.

The chal­lenge is that, in our paradigm, the ‘mega-​brand’ is king. The aspir­a­tion and ‘end game’ for most large brands is to utterly consume their market – to grow, and grow, until they have an incon­test­able lead and market share. The dream of success is, frequently, a single logo on a myriad of market-​winning products which meet the need of every customer in their sector.

The fear of negat­ive percep­tion from some poten­tial consumers, then, is one of the things which most frequently prohib­its differ­en­ti­ation. Brands don’t differ­en­ti­ate because moving away from an inof­fens­ive middle ground could polar­ise their audi­ence. Alienating part of an indif­fer­ent target market appears risky and often over­shad­ows the poten­tial of more engaged and loyal custom­ers.

And differ­en­ti­ation can create fric­tion for consumers, too. There’s a real risk that the differ­ent, or the new, is often less comfort­able or easy to consume than the norm. For most brands, though, the bene­fits of cut-​through will outweigh the costs of that fric­tion.

I should point out that some brands will struggle to move away from this middle ground because of the sectors they work in, and the restric­tions that places on them (e.g., the strict content policies on medical or finance websites). In cases like this, they’ll often attempt to achieve compet­it­ive separ­a­tion by creat­ing sibling and child brands. This allows them to create an altern­ate treat­ment and present­a­tion layer for their services and target a slightly differ­ent demo­graphic with each. Whilst this can go some way to out-​differentiating compet­it­ors in a largely static market, it doesn’t solve the under­ly­ing prob­lem; they’re all doing it, and it’s all samey.

There are big wins, then, to be had by the brands will­ing to be more ambi­tious and aggress­ive in their differ­en­ti­ation. Standing for some­thing, and stand­ing out, builds more loyalty and sways consumer decisions more than minor distinc­tions in messaging or func­tion­al­ity. To target and engage a smal­ler frac­tion of the poten­tial consumer base, but with a rela­tion­ship orders-​of-​magnitude more sticky and loyal, will become increas­ingly import­ant in our new, digital, consumer-​first world.

Technology is widening the gap

None of this is new think­ing. Brands have always fought to separ­ate them­selves and to stand out, whilst minim­ising the risk of alien­a­tion. But the cost for fail­ure has never been so high as it is today – the pace of change in consumer beha­viour, tech­no­logy and market­places is accel­er­at­ing and we’re about to hit a crit­ical point.

New inter­faces like voice search, inter­ac­tions with chat­bots, and intel­li­gent personal assist­ants (IPAs) – which are set to become the norm for how we inter­act with tech­no­logy – are chan­ging the way in which we select products, services and brands.

If I need a new wash­ing machine, if my insur­ance policy is due for renewal, or if I want to order a pizza – if these devices have enough inform­a­tion to be able to make a reas­on­able choice (the inter­sect of price, prox­im­ity, avail­ab­il­ity, etc) – then, increas­ingly, they’ll just choose for me. Increasingly, there’ll be scen­arios where devices like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home will make consumers less involved in their own purchase decisions.

And if you’re one of the brands who wasn’t chosen, you’ve lost that consumer. They won’t see your advert­ising, because they never entered the market­place or spent time research­ing their options. They’ll never visit your website, or be swayed by your special offers. In these cases, the consumer never enters your funnel at all.

In a market where most brands are undif­fer­en­ti­ated, and applic­a­tions find the ‘best’ solu­tions for us auto­mat­ic­ally, the role of storytelling, of loyalty, and differ­en­ti­ation takes on new import­ance. We’re moving from a world where you need to influ­ence consumer pref­er­ence and decision, to one where you need to influ­ence machine choice.

When they’re ready to buy, you’re already too late

At the point of consumer need, these devices and systems will look for clues and signals which will help them make the best brand, service and product decisions.

They’ll exam­ine past beha­viour. They’ll consider peer beha­viour and influ­ence. They’ll look for evid­ence of pref­er­ence towards certain brands over others. They’ll consider where you are, what they know about you, and use all of that context to make a decision on your behalf.

As consumers, every piece of content we consume (or don’t), the actions we take, and the signals we leave are tracked and monitored. All of this inform­a­tion is being recor­ded. Your reac­tions, responses and inter­ac­tions – and those of and between your peers – is build­ing a profile of your pref­er­ence and loyalty, which will be used by IPAs and other systems to act on your behalf.

Specifically, IPAs will use engage­ment and align­ment signals as a proxy for pref­er­ence.

If a user has already inter­ac­ted with your brand, your app or your content (and if your brand is in the right place, at the right time), then you’re more likely to be the chosen solu­tion.

That means market­ing to and build­ing rela­tion­ships with consumers before they enter the funnel.

It means that our conversion-​centric focus needs to change radic­ally – to consider that, if we don’t capture consumer interest and gener­ate evid­ence of loyalty and engage­ment before the point of need, those poten­tial custom­ers will never see our brand.

It means that chan­nels which can reach consumers early in their life­cycles – like organic search, or social media – need to shift their focus towards creat­ing evid­ence of pref­er­ence. Because trying to capture consumer demand when it mani­fests only works if there’s a route to engage with that consumer. And that will no longer be the case.

In this world, first-​mover advant­age is crit­ical.

Amazon Dash (gimmick or other­wise) is already creat­ing engage­ment signals for commod­ity purchases, which will drive future auto­mated purchase decisions.

Once a consumer already has a preferred provider for a certain solu­tion (consciously or other­wise), it’s hard for other brands to dislodge that pref­er­ence. Unless the customer has a bad enough exper­i­ence to proact­ively send them to research­ing their options, they’re unlikely to enter other purchase funnels, see compet­itor advert­ising, or make their own purchase decisions.

The key, then, is to identify ways to create and grow brand currency within your market­place; to identify poten­tial custom­ers long before they enter a need state, and to create usage and pref­er­ence signals which can be cashed in later (either directly, or by infer­ence) for pref­er­ence at the point of need and trans­ac­tion.

It’s also worth consid­er­ing that many compan­ies do a poor job of main­tain­ing great rela­tion­ships with consumers. Budgets and pref­er­en­tial market­ing tactics often focus on acquis­i­tion, at the expense of reten­tion and delight­ing exist­ing custom­ers. In a market­place where compet­it­ors are attempt­ing to earn brand currency, a consist­ently aver­age or inat­tent­ive rela­tion­ship might make me recept­ive to compet­itor propos­i­tions.

It’s not enough to differ­en­ti­ate and tell a story to win a consumer – you have to follow-​through, and main­tain that dialogue. Brand currency decays with time, and with poor exper­i­ences.

If engage­ment is a proxy for pref­er­ence, brands should fear bore­dom.

You need to start now.

Emerging tech­no­lo­gies, personal assist­ants, and the increas­ing commodi­fic­a­tion of goods and services has already made inroads into the tradi­tional market­ing model.

You can no longer rely on advert­ising and market­ing to the masses, in the hopes of build­ing a funnel from aware­ness through to conver­sion.

Now, you need to identify (or create) differ­en­ti­at­ing features, and pivot your focus to using those features to build rela­tion­ship signals. You must create content and under­take activ­ity which earns evid­ence of brand currency/​loyalty/​awareness, and posi­tions you as a solu­tion before consumers enter need states – other­wise you won’t be in the consid­er­a­tion set when they’re ready to purchase.

Practically, this means work­ing out how you turn your differ­en­ti­at­ing factors into oppor­tun­it­ies to engage, converse and build rela­tion­ships with consumers which posit­ively impact their exper­i­ences. Depending on your sector, that might mean support­ive content and resources, or it might mean prac­tical applic­a­tions and in-​person support for tangen­tially related topics and services. You’ll need to find and/​or engin­eer your thing, and to start convert­ing capab­il­ity into upstream loyalty.

The meas­ure­ment, attri­bu­tion and busi­ness processes required to enable this kind of beha­viour are chal­len­ging, to say the least. Marketing teams will need to be judged on concepts like brand affin­ity, rather than conversions, as lack-​click and even multi-​touch attri­bu­tion won’t come nearly close to under­stand­ing how, when are where brand influ­ence occurs, or lead (directly or other­wise) to a sale. These metrics, aren’t impossible to track (e.g., models like net promoter score meas­ure­ment can be adap­ted to under­stand affin­ity, etc), but they’re a funda­ment­ally differ­ent way of think­ing about acquis­i­tion and reten­tion.

The old model of “spend money on market­ing, get and attrib­ute sales” doesn’t work in an age when there’s no single attrib­ut­able trig­ger for a conver­sion, and where the consumer isn’t the decision-​maker.

Teams and busi­nesses will need to focus on the owner­ship of consumers and their pref­er­ence, within a sector; it simply won’t be feas­ible to optim­ise towards or meas­ure the indi­vidual sales and conver­sions which occur as a result of (frequently machine-​inferred) brand pref­er­ence. All activ­ity will need to drive towards grow­ing aware­ness and affin­ity, and retain­ing exist­ing consumer pref­er­ence – other­wise compet­it­ors will win consumers before they even enter the market, and all you’ll see is dimin­ish­ing market share.

Seize the opportunity.

Consider, as a consumer, which brands you have rela­tion­ships with, which span beyond just the trans­ac­tional.

Which compan­ies produce inter­est­ing, compel­ling content? Which engage with you outside of your predict­able purchase patterns, to offer some­thing more than special offers and discounts? Which stand out from the crowd, because they’re differ­ent and they reson­ate with your pref­er­ences and ideo­lo­gies?

I’d be surprised if you can identify more than a hand­ful, and shocked if you can name one in each vertical which you trans­act in as a consumer.

But these are the brands which will continue to stand out, to earn brand currency, and to be chosen (by indi­vidu­als and IPAs).

That means there’s a gap, and an oppor­tun­ity. Mostly, because this is a hard shift to make. New busi­nesses and disrupt­ive star­tups often lack the brand currency to quickly and effect­ively estab­lish rela­tion­ships these kinds of rela­tion­ships (and monet­ize them in a viable time­frame), and most estab­lished, larger organ­isa­tions lack the flex­ib­il­ity to change their oper­at­ing struc­tures and processes to think and behave this way.

In the short-​term, that means that there’s money left on the table, for those who are will­ing to stretch them­selves and become more consumer-​centric. Simple differ­en­ti­ation and a focus on build­ing loyalty and brand currency can make the differ­ence between being just-​another-​brand, and lead­ing in a sector.

In the mid to long-​term, things get more complex. You need to consider that, if a machine had to pick your service over another, for a consumer, what signals would it eval­u­ate, and what decision would it make?

And if you can’t answer that ques­tion today, then you’re already losing market share to brands who’re built on differ­en­ti­ated problem-​solving, and you’ve got some catch­ing up to do.

Because, in 2016, I already have an applic­a­tion which auto­mat­ic­ally manages my mort­gage for me, based on pref­er­ence signals, as well as one which auto­mat­ic­ally eval­u­ates the gas & elec­tri­city market for me and auto­mat­ic­ally changes my account – based partially on price, but also on stated and inferred pref­er­ence.

These systems exist today, and they’re already remov­ing consumers from the market­place. If you wait until they reach your sector, some­body else will already be entrenched and own your consumers.

How will you differ­en­ti­ate, earn and main­tain loyalty, and create pref­er­ence?

Originally published on onpage.org on 11/​11/​2016

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