UMAMI: experiences that build loyalty
The unpredictability of the market makes it increasingly difficult today to build sustainable and systematic market growth. Many companies invest large budgets in marketing without necessarily bearing in mind that this is not enough to keep a customer happy. Because marketing is a bit like asking someone out on a date. Whereas the experience is what will make someone agree to go on a second date, and on subsequent dates. In business, an effective way to build a long-term relationship with customers is to take a strategic approach to designing their experience.
Many companies, in an attempt to attract customers, try to offer solutions ‘one step ahead of the competition’. When a competitor releases a new app, they improve theirs. If it introduces a new offering, they try to do the same, only in a slightly more attractive form. This may seem like the right thing to do, as it meets the expectations of customers who want their supplier to be on a par with its rivals in terms of quality. However, the problem is that such an approach leads to a market-leveraging effect. Yes, the market standard is generally raised as a result of such tweaks, but the changes made do not lead to brands standing out. Seth Godin writes in Purple Cow:
“Even if someone is interested in your offering and it’s just ‘a little cheaper’, ‘a little better’ or ‘a little more convenient’, you’ll find that you’re wasting your time. [People] will only be receptive to your message if it is truly remarkable. Otherwise, you will become invisible.”
When wanting to create distinctive customer experiences, it’s important to remember that customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction are not complementary — it’s not the case that as one increases, the other decreases accordingly. You may achieve a decrease in customer dissatisfaction, but that does not mean that customer satisfaction will automatically increase. So, if you want to become a leader in the eyes of your customers, you need to set your sights on a vision of the experience and the differentiators that will set you apart in the marketplace, and then uncompromisingly develop and improve these elements.
The key is to define the characteristics that will define the unique experience you offer. But how do you do this? To explain this, let me give an example of one of my clients — a Polish biotech company called Nature Science that creates and sells high-quality probiotics.
— The probiotic market is dominated by probiotics available in pharmacies. We have come up with products of the highest effectiveness to support effective therapy of digestive system ailments or to aid weight loss,’ explains Krzysztof Rybak, co-founder of the company. — Our products are priced at PLN 30–70 per week of use. The price shelf is different, so we have encountered resistance from both patients and doctors.
The company is building expertise in the value of looking after the microbiome, which has resulted in a network of contacts with holistic clinics and doctors. However, further scaling of the business was challenged by low awareness of the value of this type of therapy with individual clients.
— We started looking for a new approach. When I read The Umami Strategy I was captivated by the innovative approach and the question asked there: ‘are you ready to be different?’ I immediately answered myself: “yes!” and we decided to hold a workshop with the whole team to identify what would make us different, — says Krzysztof Rybak.
A workshop supported by the stories that customers tell about a brand and its offerings is a fundamental step to building an experience strategy that is not just rocking the boat. In the case of Nature Science, too, we conducted research to ‘soberly’ assess brand perceptions among their current and potential customers. This knowledge became a tool for preparing aspirational profiles — a description of how to effectively tell those who are interested in holistic health care about what Nature Science does.
On the basis of the aspiration maps, an experience manifesto was created — a very concrete declaration of what the company commits to customers, society and the environment. At Nature Science, an abbreviated version of the experience vision statement reads as follows:
As Nature Science, we know that natural products effectively improve health and well-being because they take care of our microbiome — a super organ that influences the good functioning of the whole body. This is why we are committed to offering the highest quality solutions derived exclusively from nature and to developing new, reliably verified courses of preventive care and health therapy, so that each of our customers and fans can take care of their own health and have the best possible chance of living a healthier, longer and more comfortable life.
Another strategic element was the selection and definition of emotional differentiators, which are intended to become part of every product, process and communication of the company. For Nature Science, these are — comprehensiveness as a commitment to providing holistic solutions rather than merely point solutions; novelty: the promise to introduce solutions that are the state of the art of verified medical knowledge; and, finally, unconventionality as a commitment to finding unobvious paths for communication and customer service. Finally, on the basis of all the material created, measures of success were developed, defined as the percentage of customers who are willing to express a specific opinion about Nature Science, for example, defining the percentage of customers who say that NS products are effective probiotic preparations. On top of this, strategic directions for a change in the company’s positioning were identified and an action plan for the coming months developed.
The workshop helped redefine the strategy and clarify who Nature Science wants to be. Six months later, the company has a new website, a rapidly growing group of active audiences on its social media channels, increased sales in the B2C format by 300%, both by attracting new customers and increasing the order basket of current customers.and successfully introduced clinically tested probiotic dermocosmetics, effectively supporting the treatment of acne and eczema.
Why is all this important? An experience strategy is a tool to build a long-term relationship with customers, which allows the company to grow steadily. What’s more, a positive experience fulfils the brand promise made in communication. The umami strategy approach has not only helped Nature Science to build credible relationships with doctors and specialists but has also allowed them to successfully build their presence in the individual consumer market.
“The differentiators do their job. They are a marker of who we want to be for our clients, which helps us communicate and translate into results. And good results allow us to stay the course,” — concludes co-owner Krzysztof Rybak.
Aga Szóstek, PhD is an experience designer with over 19 years of practice in both academic and business world. She is an author of “The Umami Strategy: stand out by mixing business with experience design”, and “Leadership by Design: the essential guide to transforming you as a leader”, a creator of tools supporting designers in the ideation process: Seed Cards and the co-host in the Catching The Next Wave podcast.