What Disrupted Banks And Media Houses Teach Us About Customer Benefits

Disruption is forcing businesses to sell to customer benefits not the businesses features. This calls, not for a transformation, but evolution of business. After all, “Innovation is not just another app”, so Prof. Patrick Njoroge, CBK Governor, reminded banks

Customers don’t buy the features of your product. Customers buy the benefits they derive from it. A woman buys the skirt because it’s hip or accentuates her hip movement; not because it is black and short. The inability to sell ‘hip movement’ as opposed to ‘black skirt’ is the bane of many lost sales. Learning from media and banks, businesses too need to realise the difference if they are to survive let alone thrive in this era of disruption.


News is fodder for media. Reporting news is their foundation. For decades, TV and newspaper were the only avenues through which we could consume news. Consequently, media powerhouses made a mint from which huge investments, from state-of-the-art printing presses to imposing office blocks, derived. The feature of the business (the media house) became its mainstay. And the problem with being Goliath is that hubris easily creeps in. Defining your business as reporting news, you cannot fathom how competition can emanate-the investment required is too limiting you reason. And so cartels formed and news reporting became an oligopoly. More features.  But the customer buys benefits. He doesn’t care much about your investments or cartels. He just wants news. Meantime, yesterday’s disruptive digital cub grew to today’s teenage wolf. Seemingly overnight, sharing took the place of reporting. News stared getting shared in real time by a simple ‘forward’ or ‘like’. You don’t have to wait to read about, or watch, it. It finds you via WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Telegram,…; and it’s fun, free and viral! Witness the “President’s escapade at Kenyatta Market” and “the Most Dangerous Matatu” stories. Both were first shared, then reported. Even raw WikiLeaks is threatening edited investigative journalism. What was once ‘oligopolized’ is now getting commoditized. For the buyer, reported or shared, it doesn’t matter. The benefit is enjoyed. The massive layoffs and station closures are evidence of media houses struggling to profitably ‘benefit’ the buyer.



For decades, banks have been selling themselves as a feature. “You need a bank.”(Said as a statement, not question) “Here, buy from us.” The bank has been a necessary evil. But what the buyer has always wanted was banking. “The world doesn’t need banks but the world needs banking.” Spoken in 1997 by Bill Gates, the prediction is rapidly coming to life today. M-Pesa is merely the beginning; with social media apps like China’s WeChat that allow money transfer, the teenage disruptive wolf is yet to become an adult.

That aside, the latest report by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics on Micro and Small and Medium Enterprises, indicates that SMEs prefer to access banking services (start-up loans, in this instance) from family and friends first and banks next.  With the rapidly changing financial landscape globally and locally, it is becoming more and more apparent that the benefit the customer wants is banking services-not a bank.

For banks and media houses alike, survival is not merely a transformation, but an evolution. Focusing on features invariably leads sellers to look inwards. They start and end with themselves thrusting their chests out with hubris inspired, pompous, pride. Focusing on benefits forces sellers to look outwards and provides the necessary insights to sell to the buyer’s benefits. Insisting on making the shirt short sleeved and cotton because ‘that’s who we are and have always done it this way’ will blind you to the benefit the buyer is looking for.

Three things are forcing corporate powerhouses to sell benefits to the buyer and not features to themselves. The pervasive Internet, the ubiquitous smartphone and a burgeoning wild card market referred to as millenials whose lives rotate around the former two. Whether you are a hawker selling pens or a Tier 1 bank selling banking services, buyers buy benefits, never features. This will never be disrupted.

The senior management practical and thought-provoking program MAGNETIC (Retaining today’s promiscuous customer) addresses these challenges; and through case studies, participant-led discussions and debates, and using robust models reveals solutions to them.

You may also want to read, “Are Kenyan banks too big to fail?”

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