Monday, February 23, 2015
FORGET USP. IT’S ALL ABOUT UBE.
A funny thing happened over these past three weeks. While staying in Bangkok, for 18 nights, it turns out that a group of us went to the same restaurant 15 of those 18 nights…and typically stayed roughly two hours each night. We can think of no other time when something like this occurred. What, on earth, would lead anyone to return to the same restaurant night after night—particularly in a popular world city with more great restaurant choices than one can count?
Before attempting an answer to this question, a little about the restaurant. Located in perhaps the most popular catering-mainly-to-Japanese part of Bangkok (with numerous sushi bars and other Japanese restaurants and, yes, girly clubs), this one is relatively new. Named Shakariki 432”, what distinguishes it first and foremost from all the other Japanese outlets in the neighborhood is its unique façade: bright red Japanese lanterns overhang the front door of what appears on first sight to be a tiny traditional Japanese home. Unlike the other nearby venues, this one alone seems to have been lifted directly from one of those intimate Osaka side streets and plopped down right here.
As soon as you step inside, the sushi chefs and kitchen staff shout out a boisterous “Irasshaimase!” (“Welcome”) even before you close the door. And, especially for anyone who has ever visited places like this in Tokyo, you feel at once that you’ve been teleported to the heart of that city. The first floor offers maybe ten conventional feet-on-the-floor tables, though the décor is 1000% authentic Japanese posters, calligraphy, and “rising sun” colors. But the real place to sit is upstairs where shoes come off and tables are at floor-level…and surrounding shelves house any number of shochu and sake brands—many with customers’ names already on them, awaiting their return for yet another night.
As for the menu and food, it is exhaustive and authentically fresh and delicious. But what really grabs you and makes you want to stay is the loud and sometimes raucous socializing that is happening all around you: every table on the second floor is occupied (mostly by Japanese men and their Thai girlfriends), all clearly enjoying food, drink, and banter. In such an atmosphere, you’re not just eating good sashimi and wagyu beef; you’re one of the guests at a gregarious party. And there’s a similar party every night!
So, getting back to the question: Why would anyone return to Shakariki night after night, sustain such an unusual loyalty? Not for the food alone. There are a good many other places in the area with equally fresh and delicious sushi and sashimi. No, it’s about much more than the “product”…it’s about the unique experience that comprises the “we’re actually in Japan” look, feel, and socializing of the Shakariki Brand. When this realization dawned upon us so did this conclusion: People aren’t really loyal to brands; they are loyal to brand experiences—really, only those experiences which delight them again and again.
Hearing such a conclusion you may say, “Hold on a minute! It’s one thing to talk about loyalty to brand experiences when you’re considering restaurants, hotels (like the Ritz-Carlton), and airlines (like Singapore or Virgin in its early days)--places where you can have an actual experience. But fast-moving consumer goods are different—they’re more things than they are experiences.” To which we would say, “Come on. Every time a consumer uses a fast-moving product, he or she is having an experience of use. The more important question is how unique and delightful is each of these experiences of use? Or, put another way, what, if any, is your product’s Unique Brand Experience (UBE)?
In fact, there are some “thing” brands with high-value UBE’s. Among the most obvious is Oreo. No other cookie brand is as “experiential” as Oreo—and its highly involved connection with milk. Eating an Oreo whole right out of the package is always an option; but real Oreo loyalists never settle for such a commonplace experience. Rather, they copy, again and again, the “oreo-gasmic” experience of opening each cookie, licking off the inner cream, and then dunking the chocolate wafers into an ice cold glass of milk. It’s a more delightful sensory experience by far, one that loyal users never want to give up.
Or how about Corona? The brand is still relatively popular around the world, but what put it on the map in the first place was its differentiated drinking experience from all other bottled beers…its UBE. The lime. Not placed just anywhere, but always bartender-inserted halfway into an ice-cold clear bottle neck…allowing the consumer to pull out and squeeze lime juice into the beer, or to simply push the entire lime down into the awaiting liquid. Not only did the lime add some complementary flavor and fresh scent to the beer, but it also involved the drinker in the experience. So powerful was the lime that other beers attempted to copy it. We can recall one time in particular when doing some consulting for another popular U.S. beer brand that a prominent bottler, in frustration, demanded of the brand marketers, “Where’s our lime? We need a lime!”
Even “thing products” that are not edible or drinkable can develop UBE’s. Though perhaps not as adjunctively involving as Oreo’s and milk or Corona and the lime, brands such as Dove and Lubriderm offer their loyal users a sensory experience that can be habit-forming. Consumers can actually feel the moisturizing gentleness when moving the gently-curved Dove bar up and down arms & legs in the shower; and unlike so many other skin moisturizers for after-shower use, Lubriderm penetrates the skin so effortlessly—and without even a tinge of greasiness left behind.
Back in the 1940’s the concept of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) captured the thinking of brand advertisers and their agency counterparts. In those days, the intent of the USP was quite simple: communicate a unique proposition (as in differentiated product benefit and/or reason why) to incent switching to one’s brand. And the USP concept worked well for a long time, becoming one of the most hallowed of marketing-advertising principles. Until today’s age of sameness, that is…when so many brands have products that perform equally well with their main competition. In light of this reality, we more and more think that creating and owning a Unique Brand Experience, a true UBE, offers a better approach—not just for encouraging switching, but also for Creating Brand Loyalty.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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