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Posted on Nov 25, 2016

Turning Boring Values Into Exciting Differentiation

Turning Boring Values Into Exciting Differentiation

Selecting the right values for your business is more than just determining expected behavior. It’s about setting a strategic direction that creates a sustainable competitive advantage.

It’s about developing your differentiation.

When considering differentiating values, each value needs to pass what I call the Values Test:

  • Differentiating Values must be unique to your business. They describe the business in a way that competitors can’t say or do the same.
  • Differentiating Values must be relevant to your key customers. They make a difference in a meaningful way to stakeholders.
  • Differentiating Values must be sustainable for years to come. They are lived consistently by everyone, every day for at least the next 3 to 5 years, and ideally longer.

I’d love to think this test – unique, relevant, and sustainable – is a simple and easy-to-use tool for business leaders to identify their differentiating values.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

How Playing it Safe Creates a Disconnect

When assessing the values of Fortune 500 companies, it’s clear that many businesses have only selected values that are politically “safe”, such as Integrity, Respect, and Excellence – three of the 17 Common Values found across most businesses. Of course these values are important. But they don’t highlight what makes one business different from competitors.

bored-business-peopleThe one group that can clearly see the disconnect between what’s promised and what customers experience are employees.

Consider two popular examples:

  • Disney promises to deliver “Magic” as touted in all their promotions. Yet, this value is missing from their list of six operating principles as stated in their Standards of Business Conduct: Integrity, Trust, Teamwork, Honesty, Play by the Rules, and Respect. Imagine the difference it would make for employees if Creating Magical Experiences was one of their defined principles.
  • Walmart promises to deliver products at the lowest cost (cheapest) – which I would suggest is the value of “Frugality” – as touted by all their promotions of “Save Money, Live Better.” Sadly, any hint of this value is missing from their list of four “beliefs” that define their corporate culture: Service, Respect, Excellence, and Integrity. Imagine the difference it would make for employees (and the culture) if Frugality was one of their defined values (beliefs).

In other words, many companies choose to play it safe by selecting only from the list of 17 Common Values – what some might refer to as boring (expected) values.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These are all important values. But they are values that customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and even the local community expect from every company. There is nothing unique or exciting here.

From Boring to Differentiation

In a previous article, I highlighted the story of a business leader I met who had taken over the marketing job at a resort (in Florida). As the new marketing director, this smart young lady expressed her frustration with the current brand of the resort, which she described as “boring!”

This marketer viewed the existing brand as boring because nothing had changed in years and there had been very little employee turnover. She explained to me that many of the employees had been working there a long time – “since dirt” she said.

I then asked her if there were any known gaps or problems with the existing customer experience that needed to be fixed, to which she replied “No.” So why would this marketer view the presence of long-time employees as equating to a “boring” brand?

I highly suspect that when she was hired, somewhere in her marching orders from top leaders was the statement “We need a brand refresh, we need to bring our brand alive.” But does this mean the current culture of long-term employment should be abandoned or ignored?

Absolutely not!

Just think of the incredible value that this resort had built up over time. How many competitive resorts in the area could claim the values of:

  • Consistency
  • Reliability
  • Predictability

What an incredible opportunity to turn what internally was viewed as boring into exciting differentiation.

A resort where your holiday experience is guaranteed.
You loved it once. Come back and experience it again!

Imagine the brand promise this resort can make to previous customers:

  • Samantha looks forward to welcoming you back when you check in.
  • Bill looks forward to keeping your room clean, as always, and filled with supplies.
  • Charles looks forward to cooking your favorite meals, and Alison looks forward to serving you again.

Creating a predictable and repeatable business model is the envy (and goal) of many businesses. This particular resort possesses a treasure chest of opportunities… providing the business leaders can see it.

Wouldn’t it be great if all the employees working at this resort knew their work history was considered a strategic asset? Wouldn’t it be amazing if employees were empowered to use their longevity of employment to add even more value to the customer experience?

That’s how one company could differentiate itself.

What about your business?