Reducing friction to drive distinctiveness

Brands invest a lot of effort and money on communication to try and build distinctiveness. But I suggest the most effective way to drive distinctiveness is to ‘bake’ it into your product or service. And one specific way to do this is to remove ‘friction’ from the customer experience to save time and hassle. In today’s busy life, this a big benefit that brands can offer.

I experienced three good examples of brands reducing friction to make my life easier this week on my first business trip in two years, to Los Angeles. Yes, a business trip! These examples show three different benefits of reducing friction.

1. Creating WOW and word-of-mouth

The first benefit of reducing friction is that it can create a ‘wow’ experience that triggers valuable word-of-mouth. The example of doing just this comes from a brand often associated with nightmare experiences, not dream ones: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)! I’ve told everyone I’ve met on my trip about my experience.

One of the best moves I ever did related to travel was signing up for a scheme called Global Entry. By going through a thorough screening process including an interview at the US Embassy in London, I am now on a ‘trusted traveller’ list. You are then able to go through a fast-track process when arriving at a US airport.

This was already pretty good on my last trip to the US back in 2020. You had to scan your passport and provide fingerprints. But on this latest visit the experience was on another level. I simply walked straight up to a screen and looked at it. The smart, biometric screening system recognised me and confirmed I could transit through in a flash. No queues at a barrier or need to scan a passport like when arriving in the UK and using the ePassport gates. Literally 30 seconds from entry to exit.

2. Make customers feel special

A second benefit of reducing friction is to make customers feel special. This examples comes from a sector that in the past has caused me to pull my hair out in frustration: hire cars. I could never work out why I had to spend ages while the customer service agent re-entered information I’d given when make the reservation. The experience of using the Avis Preferred hire car pick up at LAX was a game-changed that made me feel special. It gave some real substance the Preferred loyalty program.

For the first time in my life of hiring cars I had to give NO information at all. Nothing. In less then two minutes, the service agent had confirmed my booking and told me the bay number for my car. There was no paperwork. And the keys were waiting in the car for me.

3. Build trust and confidence

The third benefit of removing friction comes from a stressful aspect of using financial services: credit card fraud. The way American Express handled a case of fraud took something worrying and made me feel more confident about the brand.

Whilst away on my trip I spotted several strange Amazon Marketplace orders that weren’t mine. One was small at less than £20. The other two were bigger at £150-£200. I called American Express and got straight through to a helpful customer service person. Straight off the bat, there was no friction. But what impressed me most was how the fraudulent transactions were handled.

The small transaction was instantly refunded. The bigger transactions were instantly removed from my account pending investigation by the fraud department. The whole process was smooth and completed in less than five minutes.

A final nice touch is the way the fraud protection messaging builds on the memory structure of the famous American Express campaign from many years ago: Don’t leave home without it (see below).

In conclusion, if you’re trying to make your brand more distinctive, take a look at your customer experience and highlight opportunities to remove friction. This can make life easier for your customers and in doing so, create word-of-mouth, make people feel special and build trust in your brand.

We also explore distinctiveness in depth as part of a comprehensive, practical approach to creating brand-led growth on our brandgym Mastering Brand Growth program. If you’d like more info on the program, simply pop your name and email in the form below