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Thank you for sharing!

I recently visited Cape May, NJ, with my family. It’s a beautiful little beach town that’s very quiet and very relaxing and I spent some of my time reading The Wall Street Journal on the beach – don’t judge: it relaxes me.


One article that got my attention was about the radical and inexorable rise of the generic brand in groceries stories. That is to say, people are increasingly (as they’ve been doing for the last ten years in Europe), deciding that peanut butter is peanut butter and the store brand for $1.50 less will suffice for their kid’s PB&J instead of the pricier brand name versions.

So – Cape May and peanut butter: how do these two thoughts come together?

The power of being indispensable

Well, Cape May is still booming, as are other beach towns, for a simple reason: their value proposition meets the second I of our I3 test, which is being indispensable. They have something innate in how they do what they do (and what they offer), and that is hard to duplicate. It’s not easily replaced by an alternative.

The point is, within the category of “I want a beach vacation,” Cape May does a particularly good job of having clean streets, nice restaurants, good hotels and really fantastic beaches. So short of a flight to Aruba, it’s pretty good. And it’s a reasonable value. Their value proposition is close to unassailable so long as people want to go to beaches.

The importance of being intrinsic and indispensable

On the other hand, as long as people are making PB&J sandwiches for their kids, the branding on the peanut butter is not nearly as important long term; it is not an intrinsic, indispensable attribute.  

Perhaps there was a time when generic brands were initially introduced, mostly in response to economic conditions (remember the early 80’s and 11% inflation, 11% interest rates?), and they wouldn’t have been purchased for any other reason. However, today, the newer generic brands are actually very often sourced from the exact same place that the branded players get their materials from. So there’s no drop off in quality.

One of the lessons generic manufacturers have learned, especially in clothing (think Macy’s, Target or other major retailers with their store brands), is the necessity of creating a brand that feels like a brand. No one wants to see just a brown paper bag or just a plain jar. People want to see something that someone actually spent some time designing to make look like a real brand (think Whole Foods 365).


Want to learn how to become indispensable?


Better prices should never mean lesser quality

Consumers should never feel like they’re giving up something important in exchange for a better, lower price. That’s the secret to what’s happening in grocery stores today as well as other services that used to be unique in the quality they provided. Once quality becomes more or less standardized, premium brands or services no longer stand out in the same way. (Yes, I realize there are dozens or even hundreds of counter-examples, such as luxury items and Apple iPhones. But, there are also diamonds being sold online and Android phones sell in greater quantity than iOS devices.)

The big thought:

Make sure your value proposition has something that is irreplaceable and therefore indispensable.

If you offer a service, is there some other layer of service you can add to it that isn’t typical? For example, if you’re trying to recreate the Cape May experience, are you adding something more to it or just trying to duplicate what’s already there? If someone decides to visit another beach instead, there has to be a differentiator– price, location, comfort, something has to appeal to them more because after all, sand is sand.

You should be asking your customers, “of all the people who do what we do for you, what would be amazing to you if one of them offered it?” They may give you answers mostly connected to price (i.e.: wanting a lower price) but keep asking that question until you get answers you may never have thought of (i.e.: they want 24-hour delivery services or quicker turnaround times). Their answers may suggest ways you can add value to your business that your competition doesn’t.

It amazes me when I work with companies who rarely ask their customers, “What would you find amazing? What would be great? What would make enough of a difference to you, that you want to buy from us more and more, and less from the other guys?”

From grocery stores to peanut butter to Cape May, differentiation matters; what makes you different matters, so take these lessons to heart to make your business unique in a crowded market.

Self-examination questions:

  1. Is what you do uniquely in your marketplace/category? Why or why not?
  2. Are you being “generic” without the same quality as the “name brands”?
  3. If what you’re doing is not unique, have you asked your customers what would make you unique for them?

What do you think would make what you do or offer stand out in a marketplace where everyone’s doing the same thing?

Thank you for sharing!

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