Nothing says ‘forever’ quite like a diamond does. Cubic zirconia, on the other hand, may ring of ‘prenuptial’ in your partner’s ears. Why is that? Because, quite simply, manmade cannot rival the ‘real thing’. Anyone knows that a real diamond means forever.
Today’s quick, quicker world of processes to fast-track production is hot on the trail to perfection. With highly sophisticated technology driving future supply chains, we can expect Just In Time (JIT) product delivery with minimal cost and zero human error production. Manufacturing processes with fewer overheads, more control, and ultimately greater gains in market share. For the average inventory manager roaming the dim warehouse aisles, the future could not look brighter.
But for the partner with the retracting ring finger, cubic zirconia is unfortunately not bright enough. Those flawless and artificial facets will never inspire like the stories behind those diamond chipped edges do; with each chip representing an origin story and a snapshot in time.
In a world searching for perfect production, companies should consider the drawing power of imperfection to the average customer. We must tap into the emotions of our clients and preserve the narrative of the product if we want to drive true innovation and ignite consumerism. Technology is replicable, but the human fingerprint is not. The owners of the hugely popular ice hotel in Sweden, which every year is built from scratch in a unique design, will attest to this fact.
Innovating with intangibles
How a product came to be ‒ its unique, authentic story ‒ will be the key differential in a futuristic and highly competitive market. With all the focus on digital disruption, it is easy to forget that technology is not the panacea for all ills. Artful organisations with a one-up advantage include intangibles in their innovative agenda.
Leaders in global innovation, Doblin, argue that simply creating new products is bare minimum thinking ‒ at best offering the lowest return on investment and the least competitive advantage. They rather go beyond the traditional product model to include “Ten Types of Innovation”, which build breakthrough profit models and dynamic work cultures.
How did the customer engage with the product? What does the customer cherish in the pre– and post–production process? Where can new revenue and pricing opportunities open up throughout the stages of product configuration? A more robust and honest business approach will place people in the centre of big picture thinking.
Simon Sinek packages the imperative of purpose in the marketplace with a single word: why? “Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do,” he states.
While markets streamline and sophisticate, people are evermore drawn to understanding the uniquely human contribution they can leave behind. They seek environments in which they are more inspired and likely to be fulfilled by the work they do. When people are genuinely happy to go to the office, they are more creative and transformative in their industry.
This entrenched sense of meaning and purpose within a corporate culture is, in turn, only good for business. After all, it’s not only what we sell anymore; it’s who we are that determines today’s price tags.
The allure of authenticity
Authenticity never goes out of style ‒ and Birmingham City University School of English’s most recent consumer study proves it.
Among the most lucrative words used by sellers on eBay in 2016, authenticity was the most prolific. In a technologically infused world of mass production, people are becoming allergic to consumer experiences that would leave them feeling as if they too have been put on the assembly line. Especially when 3D printing is rewriting the rules of supply and demand and putting the power of production in the hands of the consumer, people are seeking products that are original, even idiosyncratic, with their own peculiar story to tell.
Having fallen on hard times from the influx of Chinese cheap goods into global markets, the industrial heartland of northeastern Italy has managed to rise above the rubble with traditional artisanry reimagined. Craftsmen are applying rapid prototyping and other digital technologies to offer online buyers custom-made, local designs and innovations.
Where Italian demands wane, third-generation cobblers, for example, can use the connecting power of the Internet and expand their shoe shop beyond physical market borders through 3D laser foot scanners. Foot measurements are able to be taken from anywhere with this technology, opening up the possibility for indigenous companies to run with the big boy multinationals.
With a 3.5 per cent increase in exports that continues to rise, this web of small industries is illustrating the fact that a digital economy can ballast time-honoured artistry and reinvent fresh pockets of consumerism. The connecting power of the internet has opened the possibility of these craftsmen winning not only the minds but also the hearts of their consumers through sharing their origin story and beliefs.
As one provincial designer reminds us: “Even when you do something with new technology, you can’t forget the aesthetics of the past.”
Aligning to emotionalism
According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the role of emotions in determining consumer behaviour cannot be underestimated. Given their ability to sway spending, companies must pursue a strategy and science around how to develop emotional connections in the marketplace.
It’s not an exact science, as very often customers’ own desires are deeply subconscious. However, through big data analysis, companies are able to identify and tap into the emotional motivators that drive profitable behaviour. When brands project visceral connections such as ‘feeling a sense of belonging’, ‘feeling secure’, and ‘having confidence in the future’, customers are more apt to align their spending accordingly.
So, when Nescafe aligns the image of a steaming mug to a man who overcomes his disability with humour and courage, we are moved. A cup of coffee has become a symbol of faithfulness and reliability ‒ a friend who remained in the palm of the struggling protagonist until the end. HBR would describe it as ‘full emotional connection’ ‒ the culmination of the ‘emotional connection pathway’ that customers undergo throughout the brand positioning and marketing process.
Interestingly, the difference in value ratio between a customer who just loves the coffee and a customer who feels emotionally connected to the brand is 52 per cent.
Philip Pullman once said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Fundamentally economics is a mirror to what people prize, as our consumer behaviour says more about who we are than what we do.
On the dawn of digital disruption, organisations will do well to consider the unquantifiable ‒ the deep-seated desires to write our own story onto the page. The companies who win the future will be those who hand people the proverbial ‘pen and paper’ and understand: some things you just can’t 3D print.