A Unique Value Proposition
The digital world is flexing it’s influence across the marketplace and professions can see the potential effect. When products and services become ubiquitous, there is a challenge in remaining relevant. Corporations, economy of scale and technology buy-in change the culture in orthodontics. There is a general fear that this will commoditize our specialty and bring down the opportunities to a generation that is feeling the increasing costs of education and capital investments in building a business.
A large body of knowledge is being gathered and used strategically with the power of data. Our knowledge database once controlled by the few who put in the time and effort to educate themselves and train as professionals and specialists, to a cloud-based, digital knowledge data set available to many.
In the industrial age, production became exact and cheap. In the digital age, a process can become exact and basically free. This is what has affected so many industries and professions. The correlation into the orthodontic specialty depends on the premise that orthodontic treatment can become exact, which is rarely the case. Although treatment data can augment and facilitate treatment modalities, a repeatable and scalable process is much tougher when you treat a broad range of malocclusions. Assuming a subset of orthodontic cases can be treated repeatedly and exactly, the interesting part is that as things become cheap and virtually free, there is a greater interest in what is unique. Hence the role of a unique value proposition.
Better than Free
I recently read a book by Kevin Kelly, called The Inevitable. In this book, Kelly reviewed technological forces shaping our future. One of those forces, is how in the digital age, whatever can be copied, can be copied for free. “When copies are superabundant, they become worthless. Instead, stuff that can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable…what can’t be copied? Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk. You can’t purchase trust wholesale. You can’t download trust and store it in a database or warehouse….” Trust becomes branding and it leads to authenticity. Authenticity is one of these factors that cannot be copied or faked. The other strategies I found relevant include immediacy, personalization, interpretation, embodiment, patronage and discoverability.
A unique service cannot be cloned, copied, mass produced… it’s better than free. And if you can compete with free, you can compete with anything.
The digital age requests for companies to move away from saving time and efficiency for the business, but to save their consumers’ time. Provide a service within reasonable time and faster becomes better. This unique value proposition is not easy and we all can feel the pressures in delivering results that are faster. Saving treatment time with efficient treatment options and implementing same day starts are two examples of delivering immediacy. Faster is realtime and realtime doesn’t come cheap and certainly not free.
Personalization leads to a custom offering. Another concept that is important to consider is avoiding entering a market with a generic service. Not providing a unique patient experience and memorable journey, becomes easily copied and therefore fraught with risk. Taking on the challenging treatment, custom treatment plans, providing unique results, and offering unique experiences with personalized service, become very valuable sources of personalize care.
Software = free, instruction manual = $5,000. This is where the expert advice from interpretation helps in gaining success. Professional training and expertise has a unique value and will become key to the new digital future. In health care, we have this distinct advantage. The dynamic is changing for many, where simple treatment methods are becoming easily reproduced. Another change is coming from the value of those who can best travel the new digital world. In many ways, we are not racing against the machines. Instead of human vs. machine, our value will be heightened when we can work with the machines. The real need for an expert becomes valuable and better than free.
Truth and security lead to authenticity. As stated earlier, you cannot copy and easily build trust. Trust comes from years of reputation. It provides safety and safeguards to consumers. Take as an example free software. Easily accessible and copied a tremendous number of times, but the dark net of piracy is fraught with viruses and damaging software that adds risk. In this example, trust brings peace of mind. Risk to any aspect of our lives adds value to those who can build on the trust that comes from a favorable reputation. Your branding becomes key at this stage where it is invaluable in generating a unique value proposition to lower cost solutions. After all, you can only sell what is true.
The concept of embodiment pivots on the body’s experience that goes beyond the digital realm. In this strategy, you are making the digital into a special experience. A great example of this is the fact that people pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to attend events in person that can be streamed for free. So many musicians and bands earn most of their living these days from concert performances and not from music sales. In orthodontics, it is so critical to maintain a great patient experience. The journey in the process becomes far more important than the destination.
Patronage is a strategy based on building a fan base. There are some unique factors that have to be in play when you want to leverage patronage. People have to care about supporting a real person. A corporation or nebulous provider cannot leverage this factor. Fans want to pay creators and artists because it allows them to connect with people they admire. This is challenging and not easily copied, since it means the provider must be at the center of the patient experience. This provider must also have an appeal and charisma that goes beyond the service we provide. Finding connection is key to this strategy.
The strategy of discoverability is predicated on the fact you have to be discovered. You must be able to be found. Being found is valuable since you don’t want to be the best kept secret out there. Discoverability often relates to the story you are weaving online. Being visible through online search engines and review sites are two examples. This strategy is dependent on many other efforts to develop word of mouth and online relevance.
The next time you start relating to the demise of Kodak or the music industry’s pressures from digital music sales, take into account that many others have succeeded after disruption by finding ways to offer services that are better than free. Kelly states, “success no longer derives from mastering distribution.” We can no longer count on copy protection, technical tricks, hoarding or scarcity. Knowledge and technology are democratizing, so developing skills and services that cannot be easily replicated becomes paramount. Most of those succeeding in this new reality are using the seven strategies of immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, embodiment, patronage and discoverability.