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Break the Pattern

I bought a $6 toaster for my first apartment in college. There wasn’t even a brand name on the box. It just said “Toaster.” I’m a big fan of toast in the morning and I was on a budget. It worked great for a month until one morning when I noticed flames shooting out of the top of it. I’m assuming breadcrumbs at the bottom ignited and things went south from there. I thought it might be better to put the fire out rather than conduct an investigation. Thinking quickly, I unplugged it, threw it in the sink and turned the water on. The incident ended up costing me time and money to replace the toaster and almost cost my landlord an apartment complex.

Looking back, I had about fifteen choices of toasters. My expectation was that all the toasters on the shelf would make toast, so I took only about 30 seconds to make my decision. All I considered was the price and what I could easily see on the box. There wasn’t a toaster that said: “Won’t Catch on Fire.”

With so many choices and increasingly limited time for buyers to properly evaluate their options, it can be difficult for the right choice to make itself known. In business, this has never been truer.

The human mind is excellent at finding patterns. The only way to stand out is to break that pattern. The digital age has brought short attention spans and an abundance of options. Breaking the pattern is one of the best ways to differentiate your company from the rest.

At Fortress, we are tasked with helping our clients become memorable in a short amount of time. In other words, we help them break the pattern. We do this by focusing on the details.

Details are everything.

Here are three tips for stepping into your customer’s shoes and using your attention to detail to break the pattern.

Understand True Average

Average is meeting the minimum expectations. When buying a car, you expect it to get you from point A to point B. A car that can do that is average. The way in which we experience that ride from point A to point B is what differentiates BMW from Toyota. The differences are in the details.

There’s a reason that Toyota or BMW commercials focus on the experience of driving their vehicles as opposed to their ability to get from point A to point B. They know that everyone expects their car to drive. Yet, in business, far too many companies rely on their ability to meet minimum expectations to differentiate themselves.

When a client hires us to build a website, they expect it to look good and the functions to work properly. They also expect on-time delivery and responsive communication. If we meet those expectations and do nothing more, we are delivering an average product. In school, that would be a ‘C’ grade. We met the minimum expectations, but most agencies can do that. It’s not compelling to say you can meet minimum expectations. It’s not compelling to adhere to the pattern.

Companies that lean on meeting minimum expectations as their primary differentiator often don’t know they are doing it. If you want to see if you are doing this, go to as many competitors’ websites as you can think of and make a list of the ways they are describing themselves.

You can’t break the pattern until you know what the pattern is. In every industry, especially professional services, you will have a list of about four things that appear on every site. Everyone is the most experienced, will mention something about scalability, will have a line about having good customer service, and say they’re dedicated to getting the job done right.

That list only covers your customer’s minimum expectations. The market has established this patternbreaking it will give you a huge advantage.

Perceived Value Is the Sum of the Details

As the price of a product or service increases, people expect the focus on the details scales upward with it. Companies that consistently beat their competitors are operating with sharp attention to detail. It’s critical that customers and prospects can experience that in every interaction.

If I showed up to a meeting with a potential client wearing wrinkled clothes, fumbled through the conversation and left garbage on the table after I left, I could represent the best agency in the city and it wouldn’t matter. If I couldn’t handle that interaction, how could I possibly solve their problem?

We see companies doing this digitally all of the time under the belief that their online presence isn’t a factor for business growth. Yet, when we look at industry leaders, we always find a very well-groomed website, polished print materials, persuasive advertising, a strong point of view on social media, and a general buzz around whatever it is they are doing. It isn’t only about looking nice; it’s about demonstrating that they’re up to the task.

Apple is the best example of this. Everything they touch is extremely well thought out. Anyone who has ever unboxed an iPhone or gone into an Apple store knows this. They demonstrate their command of details before you even touch their product. Apple is competing against products with much more affordable prices and (arguably) better technology, yet they lead the industry.

Excellence is forged in the sum the details. If a company wants to be competitive and get attention, they need to show excellence at every touchpoint. Digital presence is king in this regard. Having a nice website, an active social media account, and a search engine presence shows you care about the details, and that you’re better than the competition because of that.

If you look at everything a customer could potentially see about you online and you aren’t legitimately excited about it, then the customer won’t be either. Perceived value isn’t created in one area; it’s created in every area. By doing this, you are breaking the pattern by presenting yourself as sharp and confident. You are also establishing your own pattern of what can be expected of you. Your customers will recognize that. 

Dialogue VS Monologue

Every detail plays a part in someone’s decision to take action. Especially in the way companies and those representing them communicate. 

“We do this. We do that. We are good at this. We have great customer service. We care about our clients,”  is the basic, predictable monologue. 

Dialogue is when you are invited into the experience by being directly spoken to. Instead of hearing about what that company can do, address how it affects your client. At that point, the conversation becomes two-sided. It doesn’t matter if the communication is verbal, printed or digital. Any time a company is getting someone to imagine themselves in a situation, a dialogue is being created. 

This is a familiar concept, but almost no one is doing anything with it. Here are two “elevator pitches” I’ve heard from financial advisors, one that adheres to the pattern, and one that breaks it:

“I do estate planning, wealth management, retirement planning, and risk management. I have 15 years of experience. I care deeply about helping my clients and meeting their financial goals.”

This is an average monologue. They are communicating their ability to meet only the minimum expectations. Most other advisors offer identical services and have experience executing them. As a potential client, I would them to care about helping me meet my goals. They need to go further to make themselves more desirable. For example, they might say:

“I help my clients to create and manage alternative, passive streams of income through investments so that they can enjoy greater stability and flexibility in the present and future.”

This breaks the pattern. In this scenario, they are opening a dialogue. Instead of listing the minimum expectations, they are focusing on the details. It is easy to see how my experience will play out. It is easy for me to decide if that is right for me. In the marketplace, it doesn’t matter what services a company provides unless the customer is able to see how they will benefit. 

When a company’s primary messages are monologues, they will rely heavily, if not exclusively, on word of mouth for generating new business. It’s hard for them to become memorable in a short time and gain traction with the massive flow of people looking for their product or service. Their messaging is going to lower their ceiling and slow the pace of their growth.

Putting It All Together

Understanding the patterns and using the details that make your company identifiably different is key to being memorable. Imagine a potential customer is browsing a shelf in a store. You and your competitors are all on it. By using these three tips, we break the pattern, stand out on the shelf and show our clients why we’re right for them:

1. Average is meeting minimum expectations. This is not compelling. Assume your prospects/customers expect you to meet them and clearly define the details that make you different.

2. Perceived value is created through attention to detail. Use your website, people and processes to demonstrate your ability to execute on the details. If your attention to detail isn’t demonstrated everywhere they look, both online and off, you are missing opportunities for perceived value. 

3. Avoid monologuing. Create a two-way dialogue by speaking to them not just about what you do, but what you can do for them specifically. This is what they want to know and what will affect their decision.

Put these tips to work and watch what happens.