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Trade Routes: The Rising Price of Sameness Fatigue

Michael Wynne
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When I spoke on innovation at Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas last year, I asked the people in the audience how many were in favor of change; almost every hand in the audience went up.

I followed up with the question, “How many are in favor of being changed?” Most of the hands went down. The conclusion was simple:most people want change without having to change themselves.

Of course, that is the definition of insanity: to keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome. How can we expect to achieve different results if we don’t change our thinking, our behavior and our actions?

The price of sameness is higher than most companies realize—and it’s rising. Cosmetics markets are populated by millions of consumers suffering from “Sameness Fatigue,” a veritable global pandemic, triggered by seeing the same packaging, graphics, product features and claims, advertising, TV commercials, in-store displays and promotions; by hearing the same words used repeatedly to describe products and benefits; and even by having to pay the same prices for the same old stuff.

Walking through the cosmetics aisles of drugstores, supermarkets and department stores, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by Sameness Fatigue. The abundance of it in products, features, benefits, design, packaging, advertising, promotion, prices and even smells, dulls the senses.

As Sameness Fatigue grows, so does the desire to break away from its routine causes, to find newness, excitement, flair, better results, change, and in a word, difference. More than ever before, today’s consumers want something that will make a difference in their lives. And that difference needn’t necessarily be huge; never underestimate the impact of small changes. Still, big change packs more punch—and creates more buzz.

The more we are like our competitors, the less chance we have of relieving our customers’ Sameness Fatigue. Innovation is about change, or as Gary Hamel, author of Leading the Revolution, says, “If it isn’t different, it isn’t innovation.” In other words, to get different results, things have to be done differently.

A simple thought; yet, it is amazing how so many cosmetics companies and their suppliers the world over still work so hard at doing the same things over and over in the vain hope of producing different—and preferably better—results. Inevitably, the result is Sameness.

What’s worse is that by simply doing the same things they have always done, these companies are, in effect, also doing the same things their competitors are doing. How can a competitive advantage be gained? What chance is there of creating new and exciting innovative value for a consumer base?

Creating new and exciting value for customers is what innovation is about. But, if the term is defined by merely emulating the competition, it is improbable and foolish to expect to come up with the kinds of value innovation that are meaningful to customers.

Challenging the Way It Is
One of the ways to achieve the goal of creating value innovation is to challenge industry tradition. Think of things that are done traditionally in your industry and ask yourself why they are done that way.

The need for innovation is not limited to the development of new products; every aspect of your business, regardless of its industry, must be prepared to respond to the evolving marketplace.

Take a good, hard look at every aspect of your business. Realize that 90% of an industry’s standards, conventions, policies and practices were established years ago. Ask yourself: why is my company still following them?

Is your company still production driven? Two hundred years since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, most companies around the world are still production driven, and the classic example of such an industry is the U.S. automotive industry. Everything is geared to keeping its plants running. So, how does it decide which cars to produce? Henry Ford’s 1908 business model continues to provide the answer: the ones easiest to produce in quantity.

These cars are then loaded up with features and accessories that force customers to pay more for things they never wanted in the first place. It’s not surprising that auto dealers, stuck with thousands of cars they can’t unload, are finally rebelling; they are demanding that the manufacturers pay more attention to what consumers want.

Take a serious look at the policies and procedures of your industry, especially those of your company, and ask who they are meant to benefit—the company or the consumer? You will find that a vast number were created to make management’s and the employees’ jobs easier, and along the way probably made buying harder for consumers, with the result that your company lost sales.

What are the features of your industry’s products or services? Why do they exist? Where did they come from? A lesson learned from my years in the chemical industry was to challenge my customers’ specifications. I found that quite often they had not been updated in years, and the original reasons for their existence were simply lost to time. As a result, by sticking with outdated specifications, those companies were missing out on—and denying their customers—the benefits of new technological developments.

What was the basis for selecting the products currently included in your company’s product lines? How long have they been there? Why are they still there? Peter Drucker, author of the seminal analysis of General Motors Corporation, Concept of the Corporation, recommended that companies periodically challenge the existence of every item in their product lines, favoring a policy of regular abandonment of products (and policies) that are no longer earning their way.

Drucker asked the common sense question, “Before you innovate, what do you intend to get rid of first?” Most of today’s products were designed for yesterday’s consumers. If those consumers are still around, they are not the same; their priorities and goals have changed to meet the changing economic world. So, why are you still carrying products intended for what they were and not what they are? Does your company know what today’s consumers actually want?

What were the criteria for establishing the price ranges of your company’s products? Were they based on the competition’s prices? If so, how many other key decisions of your company are still being dictated by those of your competitors?

What were the criteria for choosing your product’s distribution channels? Are those choices still valid? It is unlikely that your consumers’ needs, preferences and buying habits have gone unchanged. Are you getting your products and offerings to your consumers the same old ways?

The list of Sameness areas needing urgent attention evolves in tune with the marketplace. Be proactive, or find your company facing the experience of being changed by the impact of Sameness Fatigue on your consumers, which is more painful and costly than initiating change on your own.

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