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Cultivating competitive advantage through subtraction.

by Rachel Bruins

5 min read

Over the last few decades, with the rise of technological advancements, marketers have been inundated with the prospect of unlocking unrivalled insights, innovation and efficiencies. They’ve been sold on the promise of getting ahead of their competitors and unparalleled omnichannel marketing strategies – all they had to do was add a bit more to their marketing tech stacks, layer their strategies and they’d be off winning at the races. Now looking inwards, as a society we’ve fallen into the same trap and become all too accustomed to the thinking that “adding more” will lead us to improvement. Hey, can you blame us? It’s what we’re routinely sold, from ‘10 things every successful marketer should be doing’ to ‘27 habits to a happier you’ – adding more to your life, will win you big and get you further. But in times of economic uncertainty (aka like right now) with interest rates rising, banks going into liquidity and cauliflower costing $10 a head, adding isn’t always an available luxury, nor is it necessarily the ‘right’ thing to do. What if instead we took a revisionists approach and looked to strategically subtract from our strategies in an effort to secure more gains? I’m not saying ‘do less work’ – that’s ridiculously oversimplifying. What I’m proposing is to instead get to the act of doing less, by refocusing marketing efforts into retaining areas that will ultimately work harder and smarter for your brand.

First things first – honest introspection.

There are many ways in and before you start viciously slashing your bottom lines, a sound place to start is by looking inward at your customer experience – the fundamental backbone to any customer-centric organisation. Your brand can have all the strategic smarts, automation and tech available but at the end of the day, people still sell and people still buy. You can design and invest in all the right tactics to bring in new customers, but if you’re not closing the leads and keeping customers happy enough to generate a secure lifetime value relationship, it’s a misdirected effort. In fact, it’s shown that businesses who invest and prioritise in their customer experience grow their customer lifetime value by 2.32 times on average and increase their revenue 1.71 times faster than businesses who don’t. Demonstrating quality and consistency in your brand will build strength and drive growth long-term. It’s not necessarily complicated to understand but it takes awareness and ultimately leadership courage to pump the brakes on over-complicated marketing practices and streamline the approach through a strategic subtraction lens.

Fair warning, this approach is by no means less work. 

In fact getting to a place of ‘doing less’ could likely entail more effort, at least in the short run but it will be well worth the time investment. To help reframe the possibilities, start to think of yourself (or your business) as a well-rounded, successful athlete who is competing in multiple sporting events. If you just reduced or lessened the training from ‘all sports’ to a single sport focus, you could go from a general all-rounder to a number one world-class champion. It will take time to get there but the gains are tremendous as you start to centre your efforts and strengths toward the right goals.

Applying the art of subtraction – Understand your current state.

So where to practically begin? Well we know customer experience is crucial to business success as it drives two thirds of customer loyalty, outperforming other significant factors like brand perception and price considerations1 – so beginning to round up and evaluate the various touchpoints and experiences your customer base has with your offering is a meaningful place to start. These moments can be as big or small as you can imagine – for example, is there enough detail available for customers to know about your offering and how to engage with it? Are there appropriate CTA’s for your consumer to understand how to move forward with your offering? Was there appropriate support available or was the return process a complicated headache? The touchpoints here could be endless depending on the size of your offering – but remember it’s the quality and consistency of your ongoing customer experiences that builds strength, and drives that desired sustained growth; meaning having a strong foundational customer experience strategy will have a big impact on your bottom line. If we can build and foster positive customer experiences, we’ll have a resilient brand that will result in powerful outcomes the leadership team will froth over – think improving customer satisfaction rate, reducing churn, increasing loyalty, lower cost-to-serve, improving referral volume and strengthening overall lifetime value. And it’s not rocket science at the end of the day; we’ve all had mediocre experiences with a product, service or organisation that we were more than happy to never go back to again – and that’s how simple and instantaneous it can be to lose a customer. Don’t fall into this trap by standing idle, spend the time to recognise the pain-points and gaps your customers are currently facing.

Adapting to your customers mindset.

Having identified key customer experiences, you naturally need to have an unparalleled understanding of who your audiences actually are – but more importantly what your key audiences think, feel and behave towards you. Unfortunately, many businesses tend to cast a wide net in an attempt to appeal to a variety of customers’ needs, often resulting in a lukewarm offering that doesn’t entirely please anyone. The idea of subtracting from or narrowing their target market focus may feel counterintuitive or illogical when they really want growth. However, starting small and having a narrower focus establishes differentiation, which leads to a stronger brand positioning and eventually attracts those non-target customers3. Essentially having a nuanced view of who your audience is, what their needs are and how is crucial to nurturing positive, long-term experiences. Evaluating these key audience behaviours, anticipating the audiences needs and nurturing these conversations are crucial to developing strong relationships. And know that in today’s day and age, people are hungry for an experience-based connection; getting ahead of your competitors isn’t necessarily enough anymore. Today’s customer expectations are built on more than just buying the products and services, they expect an experience-based connection that’s crucial to nail. One study found that 83% of consumers acknowledged placing equal importance on how brands treat them, as they do on the products they sell, with 73% admitting they’d pay higher prices for a product if they love the brand4. As customers seek out these connected experiences, they not only benefit the brand but also increase customer loyalty by validating their decision to continue to buy and/or engage with the product or service. And just like that, a relationship is born. Incorporating regular and routine insights gathering into your most valuable customers, assessing their needs and behaviours, supported by actionable data will get you far.

Identifying your moments of impact.

Now before you start to get overwhelmed with the infinite customer experience improvements you should start to make – don’t! You don’t need to tackle every single point of customer interaction at once. Simply start to identify, sort and prioritise key moments of outsized impact across your customers end-to-end journey. Having identified the most meaningful areas of opportunities will ensure you are more likely to influence a customer’s eventual loyalty, as these are the pivotal experiences that stay with customers long after they happen. Checking in with customers and having a regular pulse on customer satisfaction across touchpoints can easily identify gaps, potential pain-points and emerging needs for your offering. Relying on data insights and regular consumer research bolsters these insights immensely. And whilst it can feel like a lot of territory to bite off and chew, bring it back to the core of the exercise – where can we start to focus that will drive the most impact? It doesn’t need to be an all encompassing seven staged plan; starting small and even incrementally increasing customer satisfaction over time will lead to increased market share without having to lower prices.

All this to say, as we start to see the mystifying fog of a recession wade in, don’t resort to falling back on lowering prices – aim to get ahead by subtracting from your heavy strategies, and narrowing focus on your customer’s experience. Even in times of disruption, experience driven organisations have shown to avoid the race to the bottom by cultivating this competitive advantage and growing their bottom lines more effectively2. It may not feel natural or instinctual to take away from what you’ve already established, but this approach will allow you to thrive by deeply understanding the people who engage with your offering and fostering a service or product that is strongly connected with them. Although much easier said than done, it’s easy to get caught up in the mix of doing it all but focusing instead on staying true to your experience goals and treating your audience as the main way in will lead to powerful outcomes.


Gartner Top Insights for the C-Suite 2019-2020
Forrester The Business Impact Of Investing In Experience, June 2021
Forbes: How Narrowing Your Focus Can Lead To More Growth, September 2021
Forbes: Consumers Are Hungry For An Experience-Based Connection With Your Brand, November 2019

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Rachel Bruins

→ Rachel’s expertise lies in driving customer-focused initiatives, with a strategic data-driven business mindset. With over 11 years in advertising and consulting roles, Rachel has acquired a unique skillet working across a diversified portfolio of clients and programs spanning across OOH, Experiential, Digital, Web, Personalisation, CX and UX. She’s had the opportunity to work on transformative brand programs such as the Honda portfolio, Samsung, Parmalat, Ripley’s, Amex, Smirnoff and more.

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