In an increasingly crowded marketplace, the successful brands of the future will be defined by their usefulness, rather than their advertising and marketing prowess. But what do we mean by useful?
The English dictionary definition of useful is “being of use or service; practical.” This definition is inherently passive, like a Swiss Army knife that requires the users themselves to make the effort to gain the benefit. When it comes to understanding exactly what I mean by “useful,” a Japanese word provides a more appropriate definition: benri.
Benri means “to make a specific situation better.” It is active rather than passive. It means actively serving the user or customer. The most successful brands employ the concept of benri to create greater value for customers, and it is a key differentiator for some up-and-coming disrupter brands looking to take on some well-established incumbents.
These brands today find ways to be more useful for their customers—not just in their core offers, but in ways that enhance the overall customer experience and provide tangible benefits beyond the core. This drive to deliver greater usefulness creates greater relevance with users and enhances a brand’s differentiation.
In the Siegel+Gale 2015 Global Brand Simplicity Index, we examined “category disrupters” like Uber to understand the perceptions of these brands and their relevance to consumers. The study showed that disrupter brands like Uber and AirBnB provided usefulness to consumers through four primary benefits:
- They remove friction by easing existing customer pain points and making experiences easier to navigate.
- They increase convenience by delivering experiences where and when customers wanted them.
- They empower customers by providing greater control and transparency.
- They create memorable or delightful experiences by reimaging undifferentiated ones, often looking to adjacencies to what currently exists in the market.
Uber is a perfect example of a brand that is more useful than its traditional competitors in a category. The core “job to be done,” the ride in an Uber car and the ride in a traditional black Town car, are virtually indistinguishable. There is nothing in the physical ride itself that distinguishes an Uber experience from that of a Town car or taxi. It is on the periphery of the ride itself where Uber demonstrates its usefulness:
- It saves customers time by storing payment information and addresses, saving them from fumbling for credit cards and providing directions to the driver.
- It sends receipts electronically and stores them digitally, so the customer does not risk losing them.
- It empowers customers by letting them request a car almost instantaneously, informing them where the vehicle is in real time.
- It communicates quickly and clearly, texting the names and phone numbers of drivers and notifying customers when a driver is about to arrive.
By incorporating all these various components of usefulness, Uber has managed to make itself more relevant to the customer and different from the alternatives. It has completely transformed the typical customer experience in the category and thereby built a valuable business and differentiated brand that is revolutionizing an industry.
Dollar Shave Club is an example of a brand entering a traditional category and, through providing greater usefulness than existing brands, creating a strong brand and successful business. Its customer experience demonstrates classic characteristics of greater usefulness:
- It has removed friction from the process of remembering to buy razor blades by moving to a subscription-based service—allowing customers to set up a regular schedule of blade deliveries.
- The online ordering and subscription management makes razor blade shopping available when and where customers want it.
- Customers are empowered to create a schedule of deliveries based on how frequently they need to replace their blades, changing their orders and frequency at will.
- It has expanded the experience beyond products to provide usefulness to guys through its “Bathroom Minutes,” which includes relevant content and advice on grooming for men.
Although the performance of the blades themselves are comparable to competitors, it’s the usefulness of the customer experience for Dollar Shave Club that has helped it garner positive reviews, sales, and brand loyalty.
Usefulness For An Established Brand
Some would say it’s easier to add usefulness to the customer experience if you’re starting from scratch. Disrupter brands like Uber or Dollar Shave Club have no pre-existing infrastructure, no preconceived notions of what’s right for the brand in customer’s heads. But even established brands can find greater usefulness for their customers, using the same framework:
- Where can they remove friction and make the experience easier?
- Where can they be more convenient?
- Where can they provide greater transparency?
- Where can they add adjacencies to the core experience?
Dutch Boy paint re-examined the experience of painting through the lens of simplicity and greater usefulness and by introducing the redesigned Twist & Paint cans. For DIYers, the new paint cans had an easy twist-off and resealable lid, requiring no special tools to open or close. For professionals, the cans are easier to ship, stack, and store. The Twist & Paint product was one of Dutch Boy’s most successful product introductions ever, resulting in a tripling of sales for Dutch Boy in the first six months on the market. The paint itself may not have changed, but by changing the delivery device, the overall painting experience for customers was vastly improved.
An additional way brands are demonstrating their usefulness is by expanding into brand adjacencies, thereby enhancing their core offers. For Charmin, surprisingly, this came through an app. By considering adjacencies, Charmin has found a way to add greater value to its customers and enhance perceptions of the Charmin brand. The SitOrSquat app enables users to find a clean restroom near them and has been rated “best app for parents” by Parenting Magazine.
Success for brands in the future will entail being ruthlessly focused on solving problems for their customers—and those that do will be rewarded with greater loyalty and market share. The best brands will do this by taking a proactive approach to problem-solving, seeking and alleviating customer pain points, perhaps even solving problems customers didn’t even know they had.
Benri brands, those that can find ways to be proactively useful to customers and users to “actively make their situation better,” will be the brands that succeed in building both customer loyalty and a successful and enduring business.