In a world of multiple channels, cascading competing products and vendors, what really are you buying? Many items have become not much more than commodities. Yet there are products and retailers that stand out. Apple, Nordstrom, MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop). So why do these products and retailers stand out? The brands are not selling products, the brands are selling an experience.
Apple provides outstanding design that creates intuitive ease of use. Apple has really differentiated themselves from all other competitors because of their design. It is their design that creates the Apple experience and consumers are buying this experience as opposed to the phone.
MEC sells mountain gear of their own private label brand and top product brands. Being a prolific buyer of mountain gear, I humbly submit that MEC is priced higher and their private label gear is not as good as most leading brands. I still shop at MEC because of the ease of use on their website and I enjoy the in store experience. Each store is an adventure wonderland. I leave the store excited for my next adventure whatever I buy there.
There have been volumes written about the customer service at Nordstrom. So much that when I was in Chicago I had to see for myself. I was not disappointed, in fact my favorite winter dress coat is from that trip. But it was not the coat that made me buy, it was the customer service that was outstanding.
Each of these above brands have focused on an aspect of the customer experience that they could excel at better than anyone in their industry (design, in store experience, customer service) and that has become their competitive advantage and allowed them to flourish. (And yes, they also have to be good at everything else as well, like logistics, product offering, etc.)
While the four Ps of marketing (Product, Placement, Promotion, Price) continue to be important and must be done right, the aspect of your business that will make you memorable is not any one of them. The customer experience you create is your best chance of standing out in the crowd and having a competitive advantage over your competitors.