Very occasionally - and I mean very - you experience something that completely blows you away and sets a new level of excellence that you didn't know existed and that others simply can't touch.
The U2 3D film is one of those experiences. I watched it recently at the UK National Media Museum IMax Cinema in Bradford and it took my breath away.
Not just because I felt I was there in the audience watching one of the world's greatest rock and roll bands, but the aesthetics of the film , the 3D effects, the energy and overall 'feel' of the viewing experience was like nothing else I'd seen.
The result? A new benchmark on which to judge other films.
I loved the fact that the U2 film is in 3D, because, coincidently, that's the phrase I use regularly to illustrate a fundamental element of business competitiveness. Thinking in '3D' means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different.
It sets you out from the crowd, it gives people a reason to talk about you and it sets standards by which others are then measured - and not only in the same industry or sector. Once people realise what is possible, they ask themselves, "if they can do that, why can't you?"
It's best to be the 'they' in this context, not the 'you'.
Why is thinking in 3D so important? Well, there are a number of reasons: We're in the 'age of abundance' - there's overcapacity in so many markets and as consumers we have a dizzy array of choices in almost everything we buy.
There's a drift towards commoditisation of products AND services (divorce 'on-line' anybody?); social networks, comparison sites, viral marketing, and online communities are just some of the reasons that word of mouth (and mouse!) is on the increase, but only if you have something worth talking about.
So how does your organisation measure up? Here's a quick guide to see what level you're at when it comes to thinking in 3D:
0D – No Difference
0D means you're viewed by customers as being only as good as - or as bad as - your competitors. Whether it's 'as good as' or 'as bad as', it means the experience you provide is the 'same as' and 'same as' sucks!
Although it may be seen as a positive, being 'as good as' means that there's no reason for me to switch from my existing supplier. If you're all much of a muchness, then I'll stick with what I've got, thank you.
When there's no difference - you're in the world of complete commoditisation and the emphasis focuses more and more on price.
So the only way to get better is to get cheaper. This is clearly an option for some, but as I was discussing the global economy with a local UK manufacturer recently he commented, "you can't out-China China"
I once carried out a customer attitude survey for an engineering business and the results were not good. The MD was distraught as I fed back the results. The he asked how his people rated their competitors.
Much the same, was the answer.
"Oh thank goodness for that!," was his response. "Brilliant," I said, "we'll put on your new website: xxx Engineering. Only as rubbish as everyone else!"
So clearly being as bad as the rest is not where you want to be.
In a bizarre way, being as bad as provides greater opportunities to become competitive. The upside of it is that it's easier to create an experience that's 1D – Being Different - because all you have to do is start doing some of the basic stuff right!
1D – Being 'Different'
Ok, this means the experience you provide is different which is a good start. It's vital that you are different in the areas that your customers say are important. There's no point being brilliant at something that customers don't value. A typical example is the business that focuses only on the technical excellence of their product, but doesn't respond to enquiries promptly!
The problem with being only slightly different is that it's often easy to copy (and overtake). Competitive advantage is like milk – it has a shelf life. What gives you an edge today probably won't do that tomorrow.
The challenge therefore is to provide an experience that's outstanding. You need to jump ahead, and that means. . .
2D – Being 'Dramatically Different'
Thinking in 2D often means breaking the rules or even creating new ones. It may be about creating a totally new experience and way of doing things, even a brand new business model which requires vision, imagination, and courage.
That means not just thinking out of the box, but getting out of it totally! Think: Amazon, Apple, Innocent Drinks, First Direct or Ryanair.
Daring to be Dramatically Different doesn't have to be about completely changing your industry's business model. Sometimes 'small' things can be Dramatically Different: for example, amazing service, great staff, speed of response, product range, the personal touch, technical excellence, or being fun to do business with are just some of the ingredients. Your challenge is to offer an experience that raises the bar of expectation.
Whatever it is, it's about doing things that your competitors aren't doing (or even better, can't do!). It's about doing the stuff that customers value. Opportunities to develop this Dramatic Difference can often come from your customers' pain. What irritates or annoys them about suppliers like you? What let's your industry down? What could you do that is so remarkable that people, well, 'remark' on it?
However, Dramatic Differences don't just come from market research. In fact customers may limit your thinking. Their own horizons may be restricted and they simply can't identify the Dramatic bit for themselves. You may have to lead the way.
Steve Ridgway, Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic sums it up nicely.
"If you are setting out to be different, don't ask customers what they want. Sometimes it's up to you to take the lead, because the customer has no reference point. They simply don't know"
Doing things Dramatically Differently doesn't just happen by chance. It needs leadership and drive. Where are the opportunities in your industry to break the rules and create new ones to develop a 'Dramatic Difference' in your business? What are you doing about it?
But it's no good just being dramatically different – you have to demonstrate it, too. Which leads us to .
3D – Being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different 3D businesses are outstanding and their reputation spreads as a result. People talk about them, refer them and even 'champion' them.
The best Dramatic Differences need to set a benchmark by which others are measured, be obvious to all, create a talking point, and make your business stand out.
It's about building a brand that stands for something and everything you do needs to reflect and reinforce that. Look at your business today. Everything that it does can do one of three things when it comes to your 'Dramatic Difference':
It either 'demonstrates it by positively reinforcing it; contradicts or detracts from it; or acts neutrally (i.e. it does neither). So, what to do? Embrace and promote the former, eliminate the second and look for opportunities to build on the latter.