Do You Know How You Connect?

Michael J. Wilberding: OPTIMideas, LLC.


To create a powerful business plan, you must first answer a single question… Do you know how you connect? Do you know exactly, what it is, about what you do that is seen by customers as representing superior value? The answer could very well forecast the success or failure of your enterprise.

Do you know exactly what it is that causes demand and preference for your product or service, over competitive alternatives? What causes loyalty? On what basis customers are happily willing to pay superior margins for your service.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’d better learn fast. Research shows that one of the primary indicators of successful organizations is this very specific clarity – about the promise the company makes, and the manner in which it is kept. Conversely, a hallmark of failing companies is that they don’t know… how they connect.

Do You Know How You Connect?

And so, we ask again…

  • Do you know what it is, about what you do, that is valued by your customers – over competitive alternatives?
  • Do you know it with great specificity?
  • Is it plotted and measured?
  • Is it tracked over time?
  • Is it the promise of your advertising?
  • Do you know how to replicate it? How to improve it over time.
  • Is constant attention paid to consistency of delivery?
  • Is measured improvement at the center of your R&D?
  • Is How You Connect at the head of every manager and staffer’s evaluations?
  • Is it a good reason for customers to do business with you over competitors?
  • Is it the reason customers do business with you over competitors?
  • Is it the basis on which Wall Street invests in you?

…if you don’t know how you connect – you could be building your business on quicksand!

For most companies, the answer to most of these questions is, “No.”

In a recent study of select businesses, we found that shockingly few companies actually do understand what it is about their product or their work that generates perceived superior value, competitive preference, and on-going loyalty among customers.

In a further step – surveying the customers of those same companies, in probing how/where they find superior value and basis for preference – we found it was typically well out of synch with what the company believed.

In other words, the reasons that loyal customers give for being loyal to a given supplier, are typically very different from the reasons that the suppliers believe their customers are loyal.

If you don’t know the basis on which your customers find value and remain loyal, how can you possibly know where to invest for the future, or when a competitive threat lies on the horizon? The simple answer is…
You Can’t!

If that’s the case with your organization, how can you possibly know where to invest for future product development? How can you know where to market? How can you guess which competitor to target? And, how can you know when a competitive threat lies on the horizon?

The simple answer is: You can’t. And that is why this kind of understanding is so critical.

Unless you have this type of knowledge… with confidence and specificity, your company is essentially leaving its future up to chance.

… It calls into question virtually every aspect of the organization’s business plan:

  • It means that assumptions as to cost structure are fallacious.
  • That the promises made in advertising – misguided.
  • That the attributes or benefits designed to bring further satisfaction in use – could be wasted investment, or even lead potentially to dissatisfaction.

To operate without the strong foundation of how you connect, the organization has feet of clay: By not knowing the foundation on which you create demand in the market, you presume that the future… future demands and needs, and future competition will continue as it is.  And, that is a very dangerous assumption indeed.

Knowledge… The Basis For Connecting:

Several years ago, a leading marketing journal interviewed the (then) chairman of Daimler Benz (maker of Mercedes Benz automobiles).

In an effort to determine the company’s approach to product development research – the interviewer inquired as to Daimler’s use of customer product clinics (a research technique whereby customers are invited to see and comment on new vehicles in the making.)

To the inquiry, the Chairman replied, “…Daimler Benz does not conduct such consumer clinics of our vehicles.”

“Daimler Benz,” he said, “designs, engineers, and builds the finest vehicles in the world. We do not expect our customers to tell us how to do that.”

He went on to explain that customers buy Mercedes vehicles with the expectation of receiving the finest vehicles in the world – and that providing them is at the center of all Daimler Benz product development work.

The point is a good one: (to paraphrase the opening of this piece…): Success is found in understanding how you connect. Understanding what it is, about what you do, that drives the customer to find unique and superior value for your products.

In the case of Mercedes, that is simply stated as “Designing, engineering, building, and making available for sale, the finest vehicles in the world.”

Do You Know How You Connect?

In their best selling book, Built To Last, (a study reporting the common traits of America’s most successful companies), Stanford professors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras reported…

“…the key finding from our “Built to Last” research (is that) the fundamental distinguishing characteristic of the most enduring and successful corporations is that they preserve a cherished core ideology while simultaneously stimulating progress and change…”

The process understanding of how you connect, finding your cherished core ideology… can range from simple to complex. Complex, not just when the purchase is a high ticket item; but more-so simply because it’s often very difficult for buyers/users/customers to honestly and accurately express exactly what it is about your product or service that causes their satisfaction, preference, and demand… The knowledge however is none-the-less critical.

A good place to start, is to understand the real dynamics behind purchase

1st: Understanding Why;
2nd: Understanding Why Not;
3rd: Understanding Anticipation and Delivery.

Understanding why

Understanding how you connect begins with an understanding of Why:

  • When the customer selects you… why do they select you;
  • and more importantly, why do they select you VS. competitive alternatives.

Understanding why not

Typically, marketing researchers will also ask why customers select the competitive product or service.

More instructive to understanding how you connect, is to understand why customers did NOT select your product or service.

Understanding anticipation and delivery

An old axiom of the advertising business is that customers buy benefits not products. True enough. But, more instructive is understanding that customers make the purchase in anticipation of receiving the benefit. And, understanding how that anticipation is built up, felt at purchase, and how the customer feels after using the product… relative to the anticipation (ie. expectation) is what’s critical to the fundamental and sustainable value of your product or service. Aligning anticipation – experience – and satisfaction is central to the process of connecting.

Do You Connect? A Scorecard

To learn how you stand relative to the idea of connectedness, try answering these questions:

  • What is the promise of your business or brand?
  • Can you state it clearly and explicitly?
  • Can your associates?
  • Is it relevant to your customer’s needs?
  • Is it consistently delivered?
  • Does it provide the benefit promised? Every time?
  • It is notably and measurably different from competition?
  • Does its promise and performance differentiate it in use or in experience?
  • Is the promise a good reason for customers to do business  with you? … vs. competitive alternatives
  • Is it the reason customers do business with you? … vs. competitive alternatives?

Understanding: It’s Worth The Investment

Understanding, with great clarity, how you connect… and making that central to your business… to financial planning, to research and development, to marketing, and the on-going management of the organization… is crucial to establishing a position of sustainable value and defensible success.

The investment requires a little time and money. But it will pay a fortune in success and stability for generations to follow.


To learn more about Connectedness and for a free brochure on how to understand “How You Connect”, please contact Michael Wilberding, at 248.505.0590, or by email at [email protected]

OPTIMideas is an innovation-based marketing research and communications services firm – founded on the principle of improving marketing ROI, through innovation in research, planning, and execution.


©2007, M. J. Wilberding