Back in June, when all the schools were letting out, an English teacher in Boston created quite a buzz for his commencement speech in which he blithely informed all the graduates, “You are not special.”

His point was that if everyone is special, than no one is special. However, if everyone is starting on the same level playing field, then everyone has an equal opportunity to rise above the pack based on the intensity of his or her efforts.

I believe this applies to small business owners as well. Let’s face it, the majority of shopping activities and brand interactions we encounter on a daily basis are rather un-special indeed. In fact, most businesses operate purely in Perfunctory Mode, with the seemingly sole objective of completing commercial transactions, thank-you-come-again.

Most of the time, this is acceptable. After all, I don’t necessarily want strobe lights, flashpots and dancing girls every time I duck into the grocery store for a quart of milk. However, other times I’m aching for more than just a business transaction; more than just an exchange of my cash for their product. Sometimes, it’s nice to be surprised, excited, shocked, wowed, inspired or impressed by a memorable experience.

Before you dismiss this as dramatic hyperbole, ask yourself this, “When was the last time I was truly surprised by a company?” As a consumer, how often are you roused from your weary, robotic trundle long enough to actually notice an unexpected detail, a memorable moment, or an innovative idea in action? More than likely, the answer is, “Not often enough.”

I lived in five states and three different countries before the age of 18. Suffice to say, I’ve done my fair share of air travel. Yet, when I stepped onto a Virgin America airplane for the first time in 2008, I was blown away. It felt like a traveling nightclub. My inner Austin Powers was immediately engaged, and it was all I could do to suppress my urge to shout, “Yeah, Baby, yeah!” throughout the duration of the three-hour flight.

You may not have the resources–or the cheeky élan–of Richard Branson,
but as a business owner, it’s your job to create that elusive experience for your customers. The question is, “How can this be done?”

Some areas in which to apply your own creative solutions:

Atmosphere – People love the feeling of being transported to another time or place, if only for the brief moment they’re in your space. Sights, sounds and smells all contribute to the atmosphere of any given location. Go beyond the basics to create a unique in-store atmosphere that aligns with your business concept, name or category.

Quality – In our Made-In-China society, it’s pretty rare that we buy something that doesn’t disintegrate inside of a month. When people actually do discover a quality product, they stick with it and become vocal brand ambassadors. Pursue quality at every turn, and you will amass a loyal audience.

Efficiency – Creating a leisurely atmosphere is great, but sometimes it’s about moving bodies through the door as quickly as possible. This, too, can create a favorable experience. After all, if your checkout process is redolent of the DMV’s waiting room, it’s time to iterate.

Organization – I went to a newly opened restaurant recently and the disorganized, poorly-trained staff fumbled about haphazardly as if still trying to establish a process. People have enough stress in their daily existence, and if your company’s product, service or in-store experience injects a little organization into your customer’s lives, they will love you for it.

Attitude – Have you ever been in a foul mood, only to be elevated by an encounter with someone whose attitude was positively infectious? They say that attitude is everything, and while that may be an overstatement, I know for a fact that in a world of impatient idiots, ego-centric clowns and vitriolic trolls, a positive attitude can go a long way.

Your company’s brand is comprised of all the mental perceptions floating about in the collective consciousness of your customer base. Therefore, any and every chance that you have to positively influence those perceptions is going to help you create a stronger, more meaningful brand.

With so many of your competitors gliding comfortably along on cruise control, what would it take for your company to fire up the rocket boosters and leave those Sunday drivers in a cloud of turbo-scented dust? Gather your staff, pull out your Thinking Caps and brainstorm on ways that you can improve the brand experience for your customers.

You might improve simple details,
you might pursue grandiose innovations, but however you choose to actively rise above the perfunctory pack, your actions and investments will surely pay off in improved customer satisfaction, increased word of mouth and stronger brand loyalty. Hey, maybe you ARE special after all.

How does YOUR company create a Brand Experience for your customers?