This article was first published by Graeme Codrington in 2004, and has now been updated to reflect the post-recession realities of our new world of work.
The world is changing. We all know that. But what is it changing to? And who will have the competitive advantage in the next few years? Graeme Codrington, of TomorrowToday, offers his view on how to outshine your competitors and really make your customers love you.
For most of human history, people have had to go hunting for the things that matter. In the earliest days of human life on our planet, this involved hunting for food and safety on a daily basis. As we moved to farming as a basis for our economies, it involved hunting for the land that was the bedrock of financial success and stability – and this often meant leaving the crowded home country and setting sail for the unknown land with its promise of wide open spaces. In the more recent years of the Industrial and Information eras, people have to go hunting for capital and investment in their factories and business ideas.
Until recently, our sources of strength, power, wealth and success have been hunted for. They have been dependent on tangible things – on land, borders, factories, products and objects that we can see and touch. But no longer. Now, the sources of strength, power, wealth and success are dependent on our intellect, emotions, and creativity – on our willingness to understand, develop and recreate ourselves. It depends on us. And these are intangibles – they cannot be bought or bartered for.
The world is currently transitioning from the industrial era, through the information era, to the emotion economy. In this new world, relationships, emotions and emotional intelligence are critical. Let me help you to understand why.
Any company that exists in any given market these days will have competition – direct or indirect. Even if you invent a totally new product or service, someone will analyse and copy it within a matter of months. And if you come out with a new innovation in an existing industry, it isn’t more than a few weeks before your competitors copy you. And invariably they can do it cheaper than you, because they don’t have to recover the development costs. In addition to this you’re not only competing with the competitor down the road – you’re competing with everyone everywhere, all the time – thanks to the Internet and globalisation.
So, you and your competitors are selling similar quality products and services, at a similar price, to the same people through the same channels. You advertise in the same media, using similar techniques, and you even swap staff every few years. Think of how many people who work for Bank X have also worked for Bank Y and Z, for example. So why should people buy from you? Where’s the “magic” at your company?
People are no longer buying from a company simply because of what it is selling. Today, and increasingly within the next few years, we see an increasing number of people buying from companies because of who they are. That is, people will make purchasing decisions based on the values, ethics and corporate culture of the company they are buying from – not merely the quality or price of the product or service they are purchasing. The same is true of employees – attracting, retaining and motivating employees is increasingly becoming more about who they company is, than what it does.
Of course, having a good product or service at a value-for-money price is always going to be critical. My point is simply that price, quality and the offering itself will not be the most important differentiating factors when people make their purchasing decision. Customers of the future will much prefer to purchase from a trusted and reliable source that connects with their personal value system. Employees of the future will first check out your corporate value system, before even asking what their remuneration package will be.
The lesson for today in this quick snapshot of tomorrow is that no company can afford to simply rely on a good marketing plan, or “spin doctors” to sell their products or services. To attract the best customers and the brightest employees, companies will have to focus more than ever on creating an environment that is genuinely caring, supportive and empowering.
This environment will include providing non-functional and non-product related training, for example. In a world where divorce is common and teenagers run riot, companies that provide parenting skills and marriage enrichment courses will reap great benefits – not least in having employees who are happy and able to focus on their work. Flexibility will also be important. If we answer work emails on a Saturday morning, why can’t we take our children to a movie on Tuesday afternoon?
There are many ways this can be done, and creativity is essential. The companies (and people) that wish to be truly successful in the future will need to show their employees and customers that they are more than just functional entities, or biological machines, there for the company’s use (and abuse). Companies will need to take the “private” lives, dreams and ambitions of people seriously. This requires emotional intelligence, and a step away from capitalistic greed. It requires that we take relationships seriously, and work hard to maintain those relationships. It requires us to respect others. It requires that we put the human touch back into our high tech world.