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Beyond Insurance

Dare to be different

Stand out in the crowd

By F. Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA

In today's dog eat dog business environment, it is essential to develop a strategy that will stand out in a crowded marketplace—to separate yourself from your competition. Simply put, to be different!

Theodore Levitt, the renowned economist, professor at Harvard Business School and editor of the Harvard Business Review, had the following to say in his 1991 book entitled Thinking About Management: "Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which individuals and companies must constantly engage. It is not discretionary. And, everything can be differentiated, even so-called commodities such as cement, copper, wheat, money, air cargo and insurance."

By definition, being different is worth something. Consumers are willing to pay a premium, redefine the buyer/seller relationship, erect barriers to the seller's competitors and establish the seller as a trusted advisor when a differentiated platform offers perceived value in the marketplace.

Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market

On a trip to Seattle in 1998, John Christensen, filmmaker and CEO of ChartHouse Learning, came across a fish market called Pike Place. As he entered the fish market, he was stunned by what he saw. Fishmongers were tossing around salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, crabs and everything else for sale. There was so much energy, excitement and laughter from customers. John was taken by the electric atmosphere as well as the manner in which the fishmongers engaged and interacted with their customers. Often, the employees of Pike Place invite customers to join the fun—complimenting them on their fish-throwing abilities and commiserating if they missed catching a flying fish.

John soon became deeply engaged in a memorable customer experience—a differentiated, emotion-filled sales process through which garrulous hams in bright orange overalls had taken the task of selling fish and turned it into an art. The entire purchase process was choreographed—the tentative approach of the prospect, engagement with the fishmonger, presentation of information, closing the sale and then tossing the fish. Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market's self-declared business goal was to become "World Famous"—and they have done it!

As a result of that initial visit, John ( was inspired to create the "FISH!" film, which then led to the FISH! philosophy. Today, people all around the world gain insights into differentiation, employee engagement, customer emotion and loyalty as well as strategies to engineer the customer experience. So what's the point? A group of people turned an otherwise mundane sales process into an emotionally packed, differentiated customer experience.

Research on brand differentiation

Even with all of the attention paid to branding these days, more and more businesses are being commoditized. In other words, fewer and fewer are able to differentiate themselves through the eyes of the customer. Commoditization occurs when the focus of the consumer's decision is on the offering rather than the quantifiable difference that you bring to the business. You cannot see commoditization. However, it can be felt with a negative impact on your confidence, reputation, time, money and relationships.

Brand Keys, a loyalty and engagement research consultancy, analyzed 1,847 products and services in 75 categories via its Customer Loyalty Engagement Index®. It found that only 21% of all the products and services examined had any points of differentiation that were meaningful to consumers. Of interest, Brand Keys examined the insurance industry and determined that there is little to no differentiation through the eyes of the consumer. How tragic. Compare this to the automobile industry where brand differentiation is high—Volvo (safety), BMW (driving), Mercedes (prestige) and Ferrari (speed), to name a few.

So what is missing? A differentiated value proposition supported by a unique consumer experience.

Differentiated value proposition

Value proposition is the reason for your professional existence. It describes how you create value for others. It makes you stand out in a crowded marketplace. Without a compelling value proposition, you are ordinary and disposable—a commodity. With a distinctive value proposition, you are unique and indispensable.

Your unique value proposition statement summarizes the reasons why potential customers should buy your particular product or service, how it exceeds that of your competition and why it is worthy of the price they must pay. The ideal value proposition is concise and appeals to the customer's strongest decision-making drivers. It is an irresistible offer, an invitation that is so compelling and attractive that the customer would be out of his or her mind to refuse your offer.

AIC's research indicates that most insurance and risk management professionals do not have a value proposition in the form of a clear and concise statement that explains the tangible results their customers will receive, the unique benefits they bring to bear that others cannot. A value proposition must go beyond functional product or service descriptions to express the results a consumer can expect to achieve. Has someone tried to sell you a product or service without focusing on the benefits or outcomes? If so, you were most likely uninterested and disengaged. You get the point.

Customer Experience Journey

What is the Customer Experience Journey? It is the sum of all experiences that the customer has with you and your organization—the actions and results that make the customer feel important, understood, heard and respected. Each customer interaction molds and shapes the Journey. While you may take great pride in the "features and benefits" of your offerings, it is important that you access the degree to which you are stimulating the emotions of those whom you serve. In order to accomplish this, you must deeply engage your customers' emotions in addition to, and even above, their intellect. You will hit roadblocks unless you are able to discover your customers' goals, passions and struggles, which opens the door for an intense and lasting relationship—an emotional connection that transcends price and product.

The Customer Experience Journey guides you through a range of emotions which affect the consumers' decisions including fear, greed, pride, envy, anger, pain and guilt. In the business of insurance, compliance and risk management, fear is a real motivator. Fear of losing something. Fear of lawsuits. Fear of injury. Fear of risk.

Emotional connections are essential components of the Journey. Research indicates that more than 50% of the customer experience is subconscious, or how a customer feels. The sub-conscious brain is a fertile garden in which to sow positive seeds. The mind is highly selective, processing millions of pieces of information each second. Whether you realize it or not, you are impacting the subconscious in each step of the Customer Experience Journey.

Six essential steps to a differentiated Customer Experience Journey

In designing and delivering a Customer Experience Journey, it is important that you have a plan to engage the consumer. Emotional engagement is the foundation of the customer experience. People rationalize personal decisions first but make decisions based on feelings. A great experience transcends the rational attributes of a product or service (e.g., price).

Cecil Beaton, the English Academy Award-winning fashion photographer said it best: "Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose, emotion and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."

I would like to suggest six essential steps to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

1. Listen to the customer. This tactic has been neglected by generations of well-intended professionals. A pleasurable and memorable experience occurs when the customer has the opportunity to speak about his or her dreams, goals, passions and aspirations.

2. Exploit the differences of your product or services from your competitors. You must be able to highlight these differences. If not, you are in the crowd.

3. Demonstrate the value of your offering.

4. Include creativity and passion in building customer solutions.

5. Demonstrate your personal commitment to ensure that the consumer achieves the outcomes proposed.

6. Shoot for the customer's heart. Engagement and loyalty requires an emotional connection.

Dare to be Different? You bet! n

The author

Scott Addis is the president and CEO of The Addis Group and Addis Intellectual Capital, LLC (AIC). AIC is a coaching and consulting company whose purpose is to transform the process that insurance agents, brokers and carriers use when working with their clients. Scott is a recognized leader who has been awarded the Inc. Magazine "Entrepreneur of the Year "award as well as one of the National Alliance's "25 Most Innovative Agents in America." To Dare to be Different, please contact Scott at or (610) 945-1019 (


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