The biggest threat to most large businesses today is not commoditisation but homogenisation. Homogenous brands cannot prevail.
As big brands in retail, telecoms, professional services and beyond focus on big data, incremental R&D, customer experience transformations and the ever complex ‘loyalty’ program to ‘differentiate’- there is an inescapable fact – they are all starting to look, feel, sound, smell and taste the same. Pick an organisation from, for example, the retail banking sector, and you will struggle to find a meaningful difference.
The very programmes that are meant to differentiate may actually be accelerating the ‘blanding of brands’. This in turn will lead (and is already leading) to a massive decrease in real loyalty to big business.
This problem certainly won’t be solved by the next big advertising or re-branding campaign. In this burgeoning new age when brands need to be at their most magical and most engaging, many seem to be heading the other way. Technology will not solve this problem either- it has a role to play buttechnology is equally susceptible to ‘blanding’– i.e. the same or close to same use of technology by most brands in the delivery of equivalent ‘experiences’.
The core problem is that most businesses think they are innovating but in reality they may be accelerating optimisation based on current logic and preconceptions, and within a very narrow ‘play area’. The reality is that a major shift occurring under our very noses. At Katawave we call it the ‘new values halo’ and it represents a seismic shift in how humans will perceive, engage, find meaning and new experiences in the world around them. It will include but is more than what Pine has referred to as the ‘Experience Economy’, or Handy’s ‘Second Curve’ (although his thesis is closest).
So what to do? If businesses want to get real about this situation then they must start asking some fundamental questions about the future now and recognise that what has worked in the past will not necessarily work in the near future. There can no assumptions. Giorgio Moroder (one of the earliest innovators in electronic music) said it best when he said ‘Once you free your mind about the concept of harmony and music being ‘correct’, you can do whatever you want…………..there was no preconception of what to do‘ It is time to adopt an experimental mindset that may, perish the thought, lead organisations down some blind alleys and even some wrong decisions. It will involve a serious amount of Imagination, and the harnessing of all of the cognitive diversity at their disposal. As a chef gradually introduces new ingredients and new recepies onto the tasting menu so too businesses must do the same with how they approach consumer engagement, new propositions and radical organisational models.
At Katawave it has taken us a significant amount of time, sweat and smarts to get to a point where we have at least understood, mapped and structured the new ingredients that need to be examined and played with, but we know we are still learning.
It is time to break out of the homogenous trap. Time for new thinking.