Why are some businesses more successful than others?
The vast majority of businesses have access to the same techniques, knowledge base, and skills pool. Irrespective of how you measure success, some companies are clearly more successful than others. Why does this happen? Poor or average performance is often attributed to things like unfavourable market conditions or lack of funds, and while we can’t deny that these factors carry some weight (especially for startups and SMEs), there is something much more important at play.
Empathy has often been hailed as one of the most essential skills for business leaders. For a product or service to succeed those responsible for it have to put themselves in their client’s shoes during the creative and marketing processes. This ability to adopt your clients’ perspective is often defined as emphatic intelligence. But how can this type of intelligence be implemented in the business world? It all boils down to focusing on solutions rather than on features.
Features vs Solutions
Emphatic intelligence means adopting a radically different approach to the way we market goods or services. In highly competitive and knowledge-based societies, specialisation and information are considered the cornerstones of corporate success, and they underpin most marketing and advertising campaigns. As a result, it is common for businesses to focus their sales strategies on the specific features or USPs of a product or service. This is not wrong per se, but it isn’t the most effective approach either. Companies like FedEx, Kodak, and Procter & Gamble have realised that consumers would rather pay for solutions than spend money on products. These companies have reported dramatic increases in their product success rates by designing products that get the job done.
About 95 percent of new products fail. It’s time for companies to look at products the way customers do: as a way to get a job done.
– Clay Christensen [HBS Professor]
Product features, specifications, or USPs provide potential buyers with information, but their effectiveness is limited as these elements only appeal to people on a passive level. When a product or service stands out as a solution, it has the power to move consumers to action. Whereas a list of features may be forgotten or relegated to some dark corner of the consumer’s subconscious mind, solutions inspire, motivate, and have the potential to drive people to make informed choices that bring them satisfaction. In the world of business, this may translate into higher conversion rates, stronger client loyalty, and enhanced brand recognition, simply because clients will permanently associate a brand name with something able to make a real difference to their lives.
There’s even science to back it up
There is a strong scientific basis that supports the “solutions over features” premise. It has been proven that different parts of the human brain are responsible for different types of behaviour. Since 2003, neuroscientists have been using MRI scans to map the brain’s response to ads that appeal to emotions (read “Coke or Pepsi? It’s all in the head” for more details). The studies showed that the rational brain or neurocortex processes language, data, and numbers, being the basis of analytical thought and of rational responses to stimuli. When you present someone with a list of features, the information is processed by the neurocortex.
However, information alone does not drive behaviour or motivate individuals to do things differently. This type of response takes place in the limbic brain, which can influence behaviour and drive decision-making. The limbic brain is behind that extremely powerful aspect of human behaviour that every innovative and ambitious business should be focusing on. People will not be interested in buying features, unless those features are identified by the limbic brain as useful solutions to crucial problems.
Focus on solutions, everything else will follow
US business strategist Jay Baer offered a very useful piece of advice: “make your marketing so useful that people would want to pay for your products”. Solutions are useful, so if you want your business to succeed in the long term, you should be focusing on creating meaningful and relevant solutions. This may require a realignment of strategy and approach. You may find it hard to stop ‘feature selling’, but if you focus on delivering solutions and selling them as such, clients will do most of your marketing for you.