This past weekend I was excited to finally rent the new James Bond film Skyfall. There were plenty of options for how to see it. I could use Vudu or Verizon Fios or even rent it from my local video store. I chose to stream it from Amazon. In fact, in almost every situation with a choice of where to purchase an item, Amazon is at the top of many consumers' lists. So the big question is, why?
Amazon has an easy-to-use platform, and its prices are good. But sometimes prices are the same (or pretty close) nearly everywhere. Skyfall currently costs $5.99 to rent—there's not a big price difference no matter where you rent it. Ask yourself in your small business how often that situation applies. If you're selling products that others have access to sell and you're doing it on a nonexclusive basis, chances are you're in this exact situation. How else can you stand out?
It turns out that having a personality—a soul—might just give you the edge you're looking for. Here are a few examples from Amazon and other retailers that can help.
Have a point of view. When Amazon launched its new Kindle, there was a message on the homepage about the company's belief in working hard to charge its customers less. It was an obvious contrast to its biggest competitor, Apple, which clearly does the opposite.
Bend the rules. The most frustrating thing for customers is when a company policy is against them, and an employee or customer representative won't budge an inch to come to a fair outcome. Rules and regulations are fine if you need them, but if your employees aren't empowered to go off-script when it matters most, the end result is that you may be losing your best customers because you're going by the book.
Find your personality. Texas retailer Steve Busti launched the Museum of the Weird in the back of his souvenir shop Lucky Lizard on Austin's popular 6th Street. In a quirky city, his insight was that the more he could bring that personality to life, the more people would be drawn to the unique experience he created—and it worked. Personality can be a powerful creator of unique experiences, and at the end of the day those are the things customers can't help talking about and sharing.
Embrace the why. We all know we need to put those tray tables up for takeoff and landing, but no one ever tells us why that's such a big deal. Life is full of nonsensical policies like this, which we're expected to follow, no questions asked. A company with a soul will give you a real and honest explanation of why a rule it has is a rule.
Give unexpected delight. At Disney World, one of the best innovations of the past several years is its FastPass system, which lets you get a timed ticket to return to experience a ride without waiting in line. The policy is that you can only get one FastPass at a time—but several times during the day, the FastPass machine will randomly give you a surprise FastPass for a second ride. The result is unexpected delight, as you enjoy the benefit of skipping the line at another ride that you didn't plan on.
Having a soul is another way to think about simply being more human—and every day we see evidence that this matters more and more when trying to create a brand that people will not only love talking about, but also love sharing with others.
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Rohit Bhargava is one of the world’s leading voices on creating more human companies and author of the bestselling book Likeonomics. After spending the past 10 years leading marketing strategy for some of the largest brands in the world, he recently founded the Influential Marketing Group and writes often about personality, karma and why likeable companies always finish first.