It’s been more than a dozen years since Jim Collins and Jerry Porras wrote about the inherently limiting aspects of “either/or” thinking. Two articles came across my desk recently that got me thinking about how relevant “Built to Last” still is. First was an article about organic foods in “Ad Age,” comparing Wal-Mart with Whole Foods Market. The second, from “USA Today,” was about the generally accepted tradeoff between convenience and fidelity in personal video.
From a marketing perspective, both these articles are about the same thing; both are examples of “either/or” versus “and” thinking, with a surprising twist. (Hint: Wal-Mart and Whole Foods both get it.) Both speak volumes about effective marketing, online and off-. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became “and” is the winning answer in the long run.
With personal video, it’s either convenience or fidelity, according to “USA Today” Technology columnist Kevin Maney. He says, “If something is very high fidelity and very convenient, business model is broken.” That conclusion, depicted via the classic “fidelity/convenience equation,” gave me pause. After all, aren’t all consumers hoping the end point of the tech wizardry that surrounds them is convenience plus fidelity? I don’t know about you, but what I want is a great experience, 100 percent personalized for me, delivered where and when I want it. To paraphrase Maney, I’d love to have the Stones play my next birthday party.
How does “either/or” thinking arise in an otherwise well-intentioned organization? In a prior column, I wrote about the essential link between the COO and CMO. One of the ways “either/or” thinking comes about, not coincidentally, is when the firm is siloed: marketing or operations, when the two are separate. Marketing says customers want high fidelity. Operations says it can’t deliver it cost-effectively. The C-suite concedes and says “OK.” After that, it’s “either/or.”
Look at the same situation from a consumer point of view. Consumers want both and see no problem with demanding both. The winning firms (decided by consumers who vote with their dollars) are the ones that deliver both. Consumers fundamentally get it. Sam Walton was right; the customer has the answer.
In the end, “either/or” isn’t a choice. It’s a dictum. It’s about limits rather than all that may be available under a different set of assumptions. Who really wants either cheap food that isn’t nutritious or perfectly delectable organically-grown edamame that’s priced out of reach? Who wants either a jerky video image or the requirement to be home Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. to watch their favorite sitcom? As “Built to Last” made clear, people want a combination of the two. It’s marketing and operations, working together to solve the “either/or” dilemma, collectively saying, “We’ll find a way to do both because it’s what our customers want.”
What “either/or” marketers forget when they create a choice, like convenience versus quality, is there’s another choice: neither. Consumers can — and often do — skip a category when it doesn’t meet their expectations. I really don’t have to have a video phone (though I want one). I really don’t need to watch “The Daily Show” during my commute (though I’d like to). Until the personal video experience gets a lot better, I’ll just stick with my BlackBerry and watch John Stewart and Stephen Colbert via my DVR and Slingbox. It’s a near-perfect solution, and it fits into my life now. From my perspective, with the BlackBerry, PVR, and Slingbox, I’ve got quality and convenience. At least from this consumer’s perspective, the genius of the “and” is an expected part of everyday life.
Back to Wal-Mart versus Whole Foods. It’s a competition between two of the most successful retailers on the planet, so it’s worth taking note. From Wal-Mart’s perspective, it’s all about delivering value per consumer dollar spent, then improving on that year after year. At Whole Foods, it’s all about combining the quality of the food and the larger macro processes that lead to the provision of that food. The “and” in this case is quality — organic foods produced in a sustainable manner anyone can afford. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey showed us the way: Wal-Mart wants to bring it to everyone. That’s the world-changing power of “and.”
From Wal-Mart’s perspective, it faces the reality of an informed, empowered consumer (thank you, Mackey) who isn’t about to feed a child hormone-laced milk or strained peas with an odd radioactive glow. As adults, we’ll put just about anything into our bodies, but our kids? Whoa! That’s different.
Whole Foods knows it and scores touchdown after touchdown as people across the North America and the U.K. discover what Austin’s long appreciated. Of course, only a small percentage of all food shoppers shop at Whole Foods. By comparison, a relatively large percentage of consumers buy food at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is Whole Foods’ lever for social change. Something like 20 million people will visit Wal-Mart today, which means about 100,000 people are in those checkout lines right now.
If organic foods and the awareness of what it means to lead a sustainable life are going to be anything more than a passion for the well-healed (yes, Whole Foods Market requires shoes), the “and” must prevail. Wal-Mart has to stand for authentic organic foods and organic production processes, and Whole Foods has to be accessible — at some basic level — to anyone. With Wal-Mart’s new awareness and Whole Foods Market’s very accessible 365 brand line, these world-class retailers are actively pursing the power of the “and.”
If you want to see success in the making firsthand, walk into either retailer and look around. Tip: leave your technobling (define) in the car. Neither store allows photos.
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