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Mark Northern asked in his previous post about differentiators that work. Here's .02 cents from someone in the trenches with folks engineering new products and messages every day.

The differentiators that work are the differentiators that matter most. The differentiators that matter most depend on the individual. Individuals in today's marketplace don't always know what they want, and are conditioned to be more fickle, discontent and less patient.

Delivering differentiation messaging effectively is unquestionably more complex today than it ever has been. This isn't just because our customers are now more educated than ever. We're also dealing with online and offline channel proliferation, a lack of data standards, systems integration, and a shortage of seasoned quantitative analytics staff who can make sense out of mounting customer information...

But that's a topic for another day... Here's the good news: In this era of tight competition and commoditization, the differentiator that matters most may have less to do with your product than you think.

Today, the differentiators that matter most may center around delivery "the basics." I choose not to call them "the givens" because so many companies fail to provide customers with what they really want:

  • Pleasing environment
  • Knowledgeable help
  • Fast service
  • Product selection
  • Reasonable pricing

Valeria Maltoni posted a comment about Best Buy on Mark's original post. This is a perfect example of this dynamic at work: She went to 1) upgrade her Palm and 2) Buy an Ipod. She left one store to find a knowledgeable sales associate at another store.

Amazon "gets" this: A CD is a CD — a Book is a Book... but creating an efficient and pleasing experience nails the sale. Starbucks gets it, too. Whether these companies are influencing musical tastes by introducing a Jack Johnson aficionados to Ben Harper, or moving the masses from coffee with cream at $1 to a Venti Caramel Macchiato for $4; the experiences these companies create make us more open to the innovations and new choices they present. Good sales people know this, and practice this, as well. Customer experience is a core differentiation driver. When it is well executed, it can be very effective in driving customer loyalty, as well.