imgbd Mr. Dependable

Great lessons from a brand that became a verb and a hit movie

FedEx became a verb long before Google did. And FedEx starred as a key character in a hit Hollywood movie, without paying a single dollar for product placement. The story of FedEx is one of the best examples of consistency building a brand into a verb - and in this story lie valuable lessons for financial advisors in India.

4 pillars of dependability

The core proposition of Mr.Dependable is the articulation of 4 characteristics that define what it takes for an advisor to be seen as a trustworthy and dependable ally by his clients. These are: Integrity, Consistency, Responsiveness and Diligence.

Just how important is consistency as a virtue that builds dependability? Can consistency be a winning differentiator in a business? Can consistency provide a lasting edge, when it is arguably the most easy to replicate among the four virtues?

Consistency can make your brand a verb

To understand the power of consistency in building a business, look no further than FedEx - or Federal Express as it was originally known. To know how to maintain consistency as a winning differentiator, even in a highly commoditized business, look no further again than FedEx. And, to know how to maintain this winning edge in a rapidly changing tech enabled world, again, look no further than FedEx.

The true power of maintaining consistency over long periods of time and the dependability that comes with it is when your business becomes a verb and not just another proper noun. Today, google is the most popularly used such "verb": all of us say "I googled the information", and not "I used a search engine on the net to get the information". Long before google became a verb, some of the most iconic such "verbs" include FedEx and Xerox: "I FedExed the documents yesterday", "Get me a Xerox of this page". That's what consistency can do for your business.

A business built solely around consistency

FedEx was conceived back in 1973 by Fred Smith as an alternative to an inconsistent solution: the US Government run US Postal Service, which was erratic in its delivery schedules and frequently lost parcels that were entrusted to it for delivery. A simple promise of a 2 day delivery anywhere in US at a standard price and overnight delivery at a premium price was how FedEx began operations. To ensure adherence to this commitment, it assembled its own fleet of planes, rather than depending on commercial flights. That meant a lot of money - which the passionate Fred Smith raised by convincing a raft of venture capitalists, to become the largest VC funded business in US at the time.

Being a new proposition with a refreshing value add, customers took to FedEx in a big way. However, the proposition quickly started getting replicated by competition. The key for Fedex therefore was to differentiate not just in communicating the proposition, but in delivering against this promise better than others. And in this insight, lay the seeds of a number of innovations that FedEx introduced over the years, which have revolutionized the business.

In 1980, it invested in building an enterprise technology platform with two key elements - COSMOS (Customers, Operations and Services Master Online System) and DADS (Digitally Assisted Despatch System) and followed this up with a bar code based "Super Tracker" platform to enable it to track every single parcel real time, anywhere in its system and ensure smooth and ontime delivery of every single parcel.

Evolving through tech driven disruptions

The advent of fax and email threatened its business model for a brief while, but it bounced back by listened to and understanding its customers needs. A lot of what was being "FedExed" was now being faxed. Lengthy documents were also being converted into pdf files and emailed at lightening speed. What FedEx did was to get a deeper understanding of changing consumer preferences. Yes, there were a large set of documents that were now being faxed and emailed. But, every single document that needed a physical signature was still being "FedExed". And all parcels were also still being "FedExed". The way FedEx interpreted this was that routine communication was going electronic, but the really important ones, the ones that are most precious to its customers, were still being FedExed. This could be college applications, legal documents - essentially vital material that meant a lot to its customers.

This insight led FedEx to open up its Super Tracker platform to its customers - it enabled customers to track their parcel real time from the time it was picked up to the time it got delivered. This transparency gave huge comfort to customers, and immensely built the brand and its dependability.

Over the years, FedEx became a global powerhouse, and despite the emergence of numerous local and global competitors in every country, FedEx continues to be seen as the most dependable ally to ensure prompt and accurate delivery of parcels and documents that really matter. Fedex has the widest menu of options for customers to choose from in terms of delivery and packaging options and has what is seen as the best customer segmentation strategy that enables it to understand each segment and create propositions that appeal to each.

Analysts who have studied FedEx point out three characteristics that have enabled FedEx to build a lasting differentiation around consistency:

  1. A culture of excellence - from top to bottom

  2. An obsession with continuous process improvement

  3. Listening to customers and responding with appropriate solutions

Not only a verb, it starred in a hit movie as well

In the widely acclaimed and hugely popular Hollywood survival drama film "Cast Away" made in 2000 with Tom Hanks as the lead, FedEx found itself right in the middle of the entire story, and the best part is that it never paid even a single dollar for this. Tom Hanks plays the role of a FedEx systems engineer whose job is to identify and remove system glitches anywhere in FexEx's global operations that come in the way of the company meeting its on-time, accurate delivery promise. Events lead him to get marooned in an uninhabited island, and while the movie is all about his survival story, in the end when he is rescued and returns home, he makes it a point to deliver - albeit late - a single FedEx parcel that survived his plane crash along with him. That last shot says it all about FedEx.


Lessons for financial advisors

Wouldn't you love it if your brand became a verb - if not globally or nationally, but at least in the city of your operation? Maybe its too fanciful to dream of a situation where investors say "I have Sapiented my savings" or "I have Peaked my portfolio" or "I have InTrusted my investments" or "I have WiseInvested my wealth". Fanciful it does sound - but entirely impossible? What's wrong in daring to dream anyway? The journey to your brand becoming a verb starts with consistently delivering on the promise you make in your proposition - every time, no matter what.

Financial planning and asset allocation may be seen as becoming "commoditized" with machines also delivering these propositions. What however will set you apart is the missionary zeal with which you undertake to deliver on every commitment you make to your clients. Whether it is regular in-person portfolio reviews, periodic rebalancing of portfolios at the agreed frequency, proactive communication during all key market events or a promise to be there when your clients need you most - it's the delivery that matters.

That fanatical embrace of consistency as a core value in your firm is what will set the foundation to building a strong business that is seen by your clients as a dependable ally in their quest for wealth creation and preservation. Clients may not verbalise your brand as a verb - but if they even begin thinking along these lines - you know you are setting yourself up for lasting business success.

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