On the way to the commuter train every day, I pass a sushi bar in the station. Next to the company logo are the words ‘More Than Sushi’. Normally, I walk past it without a second glance, but this week has been one of my fish-craving ones, so I stopped to contemplate the sign.
It seems to be that in this day and age, providing a product or service is not enough: customers require an ‘experience’. There must, it appears, be some reason for custom beyond the reason itself. Rather than eating food, we must reflect and experience a certain type of lifestyle: sumptuous, decadent, artistic, on-the-go. Throughout this process, where is the customer? Where is their own subjectivity, their own first-hand experience untainted by the company’s blueprint?
I am unusually brand-loyal. If there is a product, service or company that treats me well, I recommend them to all my friends, minister about them to anyone who will listen, and refuse to hear a bad word spoken about them. Why? Because they fit into my life well, they provide me with something that would otherwise be lacking, perhaps they make my day easier and less stressful. I do not, however, enjoy being told how to feel. If I like a company, I like it for a reason unique to me; other people may prefer another company for their own reasons, and this is fine. Diversity is the spice of life.
So why this need to try to brand, not just our businesses, but our customers too? So much of advertising seems to be saying: “This is what we do, but that’s not important.You must not buy our product: you must experience our business!” When we consider the wide range of personalities, of preferences, of lifestyles, it seems beyond ridiculous that a company can somehow provide an experience that a user may or may not wish to have. The implication that I will somehow feel like a Brazilian model draped on a beach towel on a tropical island, just because I decided to pick up a particular brand of coffee, cheese or wine, is one about which I am skeptical. Maybe I will feel like that, but I wouldn’t particularly want to. And this is precisely my point: as a customer, I may not want to be five foot eleven and stylish; I may want to be five foot one and comfortably frumpy. So why stamp onto me an experience I don’t want?
Perhaps all of us can learn from this. As businesspeople, as leaders, as thinkers, we have a duty to our customers. To each and every one of them, not just to the ones who ‘fit with our ethos’. Getting to know the people who use your product or service on a personal level brings a welcome level of intimacy to business relations, and allows injections of genuinely consumer-reflective personality into the workplace. After all, what is a business without its customers? Surely they should be the ones we are listening to, rather than the other way around?
What do you think? Do you appreciate being sold an ‘experience’, or do you prefer to create your business around its specific qualities and uses? What advertising gripes do you have? I’d love to hear your thoughts.