Billy Ryan
11 Jan 2022

I’m a movie lover and one of the classic movie lines comes from “A League of Their Own.” You remember the line: “There’s no crying in baseball!” When you know your WHY, average is not the goal you seek. Instead, you aim to set yourself apart from your competition, in the context of business performance. In life, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Our personal WHY is to build a life of significance.

Again, average will not suffice.

On 20 March 2023, Alex Murrell wrote a piece entitled, “The Age of Average.” The title instantly implied a negative perspective. The daily digest, “1440,” teased the article with a summary suggesting it was an opinion piece about architecture and design. Those are topics of which I am keenly interested, so I clicked the link.

Alex starts the piece by sharing an experiment conducted by two Russian artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who, using market research analytics, attempted to capture and create the ultimate piece of art. Ultimate in the sense that it met the “needs” of its viewers. The artists created a piece of art that reflected the answers to several research questions. They did this across multiple countries. In the end, the works looked surprisingly similar.

Komar quipped: “Looking for freedom, we found slavery.” Individuals can be individualistic. The mob thinks in the collective. As individuals we find comfort in the familiar and the accepted. We understand this phenomenon. Yet, innovation requires blazing the new trail. As Murrell writes, “This article argues that from film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché.

Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same.

“Welcome to the age of average.”

This begs a question. When developing a new brand, will we attract a broader audience by offering the familiar? Or, do we benefit from striking out with an individualistic identity?

I would never advocate to seek the average. However, it is worth a discussion on the merits of “comfortable.” I speak often about our “Brand Shadow.” Our Brand Shadow is every experience we deliver to our customers. Actions speak louder than words. And so the customer experience, in each interaction, sends a very clear statement of our Brand Intention. As we all know, there are times when we miss the bar we have set for our company and ourselves.

When we understand that Brand is everything, we look well beyond logos and slogans. Aaron Taylor Harvey, the Executive Creative Director of Environments at Airbnb had spotted something similar: “You can feel a kind of trend in certain listings. There’s an International Airbnb Style that’s starting to happen. I think that some of it is really a wonderful thing that gives people a sense of comfort and immediate belonging when they travel, and some of it is a little generic. It can go either way.”

There it is again: “a sense of comfort and immediate belonging.”

I bump into this mindset (if I dare call it a mindset) in my real estate business. I had a listing recently that divided potential buyers on the value of the property. More than once, a prospect commented that the home was “dated” and would require substantial remodeling. Every new buyer wants to put their mark on their new home, whether it be the furniture, new paint, or some other décor. That is natural. Each buyer develops their certain style moving from property purchase to property purchase. However, I quickly noticed a recurring theme among the shared comments. They were describing a certain “look” that they expected or hoped to find. One prospect put a price on the expected redesign of $300,000. Given my long history in homebuilding, I couldn’t imagine how this prospect arrived at such a number. I believe they wanted to see “that look.” In other words, they wanted the familiar.

“AirSpace” is the name Kyle Chayka has given to a digital lifestyle: this international Airbnb design aesthetic. Kyle goes further to define the psychographic of this typical client: “wealthy, mobile elite.” Much is suggested by this moniker. Wisely, Kyle points out that this client wants “to feel like they’re visiting somewhere ‘authentic’ while they travel, but who actually just crave more of the same.”

You’ve heard me say, “If it ain’t broke, break it!” For me, the secret to high achievement is to constantly be innovating. I’ve always been one to strive to stand out among my competitors. When our product is driven by design, whether features or attributes, we should seek differentiation. That said, homogeneity is the safe place to live. Every business must manage inventory. Stocking more of the wrong products ties up our capital in non-producing product lines. The secret to differentiation in an inventory-laden industry is to understand our customer better. Stock the items our customer seeks. Hence the move toward homogeneity. This also leads to the commoditization of products. When we compete in a commodity market, price and margins sink.

So much of our market research comes from analyzing what our competitors do. That says a lot about the market we seek to serve. And therein lies the secret of successful market differentiation: know your customer better than your competitors do. A corollary to this theorem is to serve your customers better. This is where the Ritz has staked their position in the hotel marketplace. They have cultivated and successfully disseminated their distinctive customer ethic. They are completely committed to exceeding the expectations of their customers. They do this by conducting exercises to “anticipate” those unexpressed expectations. You know it when you do it!

The Ritz has built a legacy, steeped in effective training, of learning more about their customers with each customer interaction. Each iteration is a chance to set the bar higher, or learn more acutely. Over time, they deliver a customer experience that shines brighter than their competitors.

Elevating the customer experience is a compelling WHY. For me, differentiation is job one. Where is the “me” in my life or business if I play it safe by gathering at the norm? I am all about making my mark in the world. I think we owe it to our customers to work diligently to anticipate customer need. As importantly, we owe it to ourselves to pursue a worthy goal.

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