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Predatory Thinking

By Stephen Hampshire, Client Manager, TLF Research

TLF kicked off its new book club with “Predatory Thinking”, at my suggestion. Distilled from Dave Trott’s distinctively punchy blog posts, this is a book about getting the edge on the competition whatever your walk of life.

I’ve long been a fan of Trott’s ability to use stories to illustrate points he wants to make, as well as his style of writing. The rest of book club mostly agreed that it was an easy, enjoyable, read. Trott’s distinctive one-sentence paragraphs (a writing style that’s easy to parody but difficult to emulate) lead you quickly through each short entry, and there’s an addictively moreish quality to the collection. We all chose a couple of favourite stories, and interestingly there was very little overlap in which ones struck a chord.

Some felt that “Predatory Thinking” doesn’t really hang together as a book, that it remains a collection of interesting anecdotes without a clear overarching theme. I got quite cross at this point, arguing that the overarching theme is blindingly obvious given it’s the title of the book. Nonetheless, it’s certainly true that it does read more like a collection of blog posts than a conventional book. You have to do the work to piece the overall point together, which means this is not the book for you if you want a “how to” guide to marketing. Then again, it’s hard to see how anyone could write a how to guide to being distinctively different!

We were also divided on the content, and particularly on how applicable its lessons are for ourselves as a business. There was a consensus that many of the stories made us think about our own traits and behaviour, particularly when it comes to risk-taking, creativity, and the importance of giving and taking criticism. Some offer useful perspectives on how people tick (e.g. too much choice is bad, “what’s in it for me?”). Not surprising for a room 60% comprised of people with psychology degrees, but a good reminder and some useful examples.

The main point, though, is about competition. Trott’s key contention is that nothing is either good or bad but comparison makes it so. It is, or ought to be, obvious that advertising is mostly a zero-sum game - Trott quotes a colleague who described marketing as “a knife-fight in a phone box”. But does that principle apply to everything? It certainly has relevance to our world of customer experience - being better than the competition is what translates customer satisfaction into competitive advantage.

There is much that customer experience professionals could learn from Trott on the importance of being distinctive. In a world of people trying to differentiate their service by benchmarking best practice, all going to the same conferences to listen to the same speakers from the same companies, there is little that is authentically unique. Amazon, Apple, John Lewis, First Direct and the rest didn’t build their reputations by copying others; they did it by being clear on what they stand for and what feelings they want to create for customers.

Another important principle from Trott is the idea of “getting upstream of the problem”, turning something you can’t solve into something you can. Again and again we’re faced with examples of organisations who simply can’t address a source of customer exasperation (late deliveries because of traffic, lack of availability at busy times, etc.). Upstream thinking gives you a way to address some of these issues, and dovetails very nicely with service design thinking. We know, for instance, that customers will often complain about waiting times, something which can be difficult to address. Upstream thinking lets us see that it is the customer’s experience of the wait that matters, not its objective length…and that unlocks a whole host of ways to improve satisfaction. It turns out that the quality of the wait is far more important for customers’ memory of the experience than time, so if we take steps to fill the time, make it more pleasant, or simply make sure the customer knows that they’ve not been forgotten, the experience will be much happier and less stressful.

Don’t buy Predatory Thinking if you’re hoping for answers to your questions, or a simple guide to marketing. Do buy it if you want stories which are entertaining, challenging, and occasionally inspiring.

 

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