In the 1970s, there were two choices of Colgate toothpaste. The last time I checked, Colgate is now up to 32 different types of toothpaste. With 32 options, I’m not sure anymore which one I should choose to get my teeth clean. There is this rather odd assumption that companies have that more is better. The problem with more, is that more is never enough.
The best example of companies trying to differentiate simply by offering more is in the razor blade business. I still remember the commercials. “Because two blades is better than one.” “Because three blades is better than two.” “Because four blades is best.” “Because five blades gives you a closer shave than four.” Companies like Gillette and Schick spend so much time and money trying to convince us that each blade they add is better, they forgot to do something that actually distinguishes one company from the other. I ask all you who are reading this – which company is better? See what I mean.
Value is not a see-saw. A company and it’s products either have the perception of value in a consumer’s mind or they don’t. Simply by adding one more of something does not mean that there will be a sudden shift in loyalties simply because one manufacturer offers more than another. More raisins. More chocolate chips. More taste. More destinations. More channels. More features. More, more, more. More confusion is all it creates.
A real value proposition, one that can truly differentiate one company from another, is not pegged to the number of features offered. A real value proposition is born out a company’s ability to articulate what its values and beliefs are. Believing they offer you a closer shave, is not a belief, it’s simply what the product does. And that is the root of the problem. Too many companies believe that their value is defined simply by their products. It’s not. Of course good quality products are important, but having the best does not guarantee everyone will fall in love with you. There are countless examples of better products or technologies losing out to someone else. Beta was better than VHS, VHS won. TiVo is better than all the cable company DVRs, but TiVo has trouble selling its products. XM and Sirius Satellite radio battled it out, each attempting to woo customers by offering more channels than the other. The results were so miserable that they they gave up and decided to merge the companies into one.
What if a razor company announced that they recognize that getting ready in the morning is something we all do, but for some, the requirement is more ritualistic. What if this razor company said that it believed that we are all different and we should celebrate our rituals in the morning. It believed in making razors that suited who we are as people. A razor for the person who likes to wake up extra early in the morning so they can take their time getting ready. Those razors are made to offer a slow shave. And the shaving cream that goes with it has to be really lathered up so that it gets full and soft. For those who are always running late, a razor that is great (and safe) when you’re in a rush. And special shaving cream that goes doesn’t clog the razor (because that takes time). It’s entirely possible that all the razors only have two blades, but it’s how the blades are mounted to suit you and your own ritual that matters more . Unlike Colgate that just kept adding toothpastes or the razor companies that just kept adding more blades, my mythical company decided to fit its products into our lives, not just offer us better products. In fact, if it wanted, it could decide to sell toothbrushes and toothpaste to match your ritual. And soap. And towels. The list goes on. The value we’d have from these products is not that there is more of one ingredient. It’s not the addition of features and benefits. The company is now differentiating itself because their products suit me and my lifestyle.
The success of Method brand products proves this. Are their soaps better? Do they kill more germs? Does their dish washing liquid cut more grease? Who knows. They could be worse for all we know, but the packaging looks good in our kitchens and bathrooms. And for those who care about design, that matters to us…even more than more. Method, more than other companies has the ability to sell products the others can’t. They sell hand soap and leather cleaner, for example. Would you buy leather cleaner from Dove? Of course not, we’d only by soap from a soap company.
I’m not suggesting that any company can differentiate simply by offering pretty things. I’m suggesting, however, that when companies start thinking about how they fit into the lives of their customers and not just thinking about themselves and their products, they might find something more might happen. They’ll have more loyal customers and they will make more money. And that’s real value.