Before I begin, I promise those who have not seen Avengers Affinity War there are absolutely no spoilers ahead, except that Robert Downey Jr. is in it and plays the part of Iron Man, which may come as a shock to some.
Let me start by saying that my family of 6 (wife, 4 daughters and myself) are Marvel fans. We are not the “dress up and act out our favorite scenes type of fans” (we pass no judgement if you are). However, we enjoy the stories and actors who bring these characters to life. For what typically consists of two and a half hours of fun, we get to lose ourselves in the experience of the film. For those who enjoy these films you will likely not be disappointed.
Upon leaving the theater and on our ride home, my children began referencing various scenes as they often do. As they tossed out one liners from one character or various pop culture references from another, I realized I had missed some parts. They were minor but enhanced the interplay and dialogue of the total experience. There were also times when my daughters would refer to a visual in a scene that again I missed because the screen was a little dark. My local theater is state of the art and I have no visual or hearing impairment issues (except the common practice of selective hearing because I live in a home with 5 strong willed women). It dawned on me at that moment, for a guy who is a movie addict, the movie experience is better in my home than at the theater. I shared this view with my wife and my children who ironically all agreed, but no one could debate the emotional draw of seeing a movie such as this in the theater. I wondered though, how long would this feeling about going to the movies last with an alternative option that offers a good experience in the convenience of our own home?
The point of me sharing this observation is not to discuss the merits of going to the movies or the divergent shifts in media and entertainment. This moment got me thinking about how an established brand experience can easily be chipped away by alternative options or new innovations. We are seeing the decline of institutional retailers today because they did not foresee their customers accepting alternative ways of purchasing (online). These alternatives came to be, fit a need, and resonate with those customers. Customers either had the need or created the need in themselves based on the existence of this new alternative and the influence of others who adopted it. Yes, early adopters play a part but the alternative must meet or create a need so important that it “crosses the chasm” (ala Geoffrey Moore) to get wide spread adoption.
In this era of constant innovation (especially in the software channel for those of you churning out the next SaaS or App), one cannot deny the possibility that today’s customer is gone tomorrow, especially when an alternative provides a better experience and value. Often, it matters not if the experience required a behavior or belief change to get adoption. If it had significant value that was better than the original, the shift will occur at some point. Now there are people who might think their business is so strong because of the relationship they have with their customer. This is a big belief in many B2B companies with robust sales teams. Others may believe the requirements to walk away from a company, brand and/or products/services integrated into their business, is too great to change and therefore the customer will stay. However (per an earlier article I wrote a dependent customer taken for granted will become a resentful customer who hurts your brand value by influencing others (brand-loyalty-to-brand-dependency-to-brand-resentment.html).
Therefore, what should a company do if an alternative is present?
Well… have foresight. Not the mystical kind that Dr. Strange has (see what I did there) but the kind that is constantly observing your market and those that surround it. Yes, keep a watchful eye on your competitors because they have one mission as do you, to take market share. If you do not truly have a competitive auditing practice in your company, shame on you if you lose customers and ultimately market share. Competitive audits are not difficult and require a little time/investment, a little dialogue among your key people, and an evaluation process that determines when you need to continue observing what they are doing and when you need to act against their efforts before they get a foothold.
Foresight however is posing the “what-if” and considering when you need to take a “what-if” more seriously. For example, a “what-if” might be something like: “what if people are willing to purchase products online, try them at home and then ship it back at no cost to them if it does not meet their needs? What will that do to our business? I don’t know but doesn’t Amazon only sell books, do we really need to worry?”
For most businesses, the “what-if” scenario does not have to be so dramatic and must relate to specific factors that make up their total brand experience and value. For example:
As most businesses are competing in the here and now, foresight can be difficult and some might believe it creates unnecessary alarms and fears. However, you can use “what-ifs” for your benefit so you can become the alterative and grow your business. “What-if we offer a subscription based service to make pricing more appealing? Maybe this will help create better customer retention.”
Whichever way you choose to use a “what-if” strategy, you’re applying creative thinking about the factors that may influence a customer to choose an alternative that appeals to their needs. For the record, this is more than product development strategy. It is a business strategy. If you are wondering how to acquire the inspiration to pose “what-if” situations, it is all about obtaining insight, i.e. research. However, you can keep it simple by engaging your customers to understand what they value, what they need and what challenges they are facing. You can engage your prospects to understand what is most important to them so you can determine if you truly fit their requirements and of course you can keep an eye on competitors and innovators in other markets. “What-ifs” inspiration come from getting contextual insights not just data-points. Digital marketers, I know analytics is key to making smart decisions on your marketing efforts, but it does not always uncover what prospects and customers need. Use your analytics to validate the potential alternatives you develop but use qualitative methods to get that rich insight that only a conversation can yield.
Alternatives to well established products and brands are everywhere and will be there for as long as customers desire better experiences. It started after the first product was created, then sold, which led to a courageous individual thinking “what-if” and took it from there. One last thing, ”what-ifs” are about creating new ideas not replicating another brand or company. When this occurs that is called trying to keep up. When you do this, you often do not get the same recognition and success that the original was able to capture amongst customers, unless you completely reinvent the experience. Case in point, I’m not so sure D.C. has be able to create the same magical universe that Marvel has even with Ben Affleck playing the part of Batman.
If you're trying to figure out how to get inspiration to create your own set of "what-if" alternatives take a look at our Win/Loss Analysis process. Its a great way to identify what lost prospects were looking for that you didn't offer. The Analysis