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Simply Better: Winning and Keeping Customers by Delivering What Matters Most Hardcover – July, 2004
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It’s all good stuff and ultimately proves that consumers care more about basic benefits than unique selling propositions. (Edge 2005-08-05)
This is a book about marketing for people who have read too many books about marketing... [Simply Better] is a welcome book that sheds light on a glaring deficiency in contemporary business culture... the empathy gap that exists in all too many executive suites. (Financial Times 2005-08-03)
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If time is of the essence, it is my editorial duty to let you know that you will find most of the important ideas of this book in the authors' MIT Sloan Management Review article, "Don't Be Unique, Be Better." Barwise and Meehan do not entirely dismiss the conventional wisdom that competitive positioning and differentiation require companies to offer customers something they cannot find elsewhere, but they do insist that this has distracted companies from maintaining a true customer focus and from delivering the essential category benefits valued by customers. The only area in which differentiation is clearly the right way to go, they argue, is in your advertising and marketing messages. Elsewhere, they urge companies to think "inside the box" by refining, perfecting, and delivering on the essentials that customers badly want. The failure of companies to do this has created deep customer dissatisfaction.
The good news in this is that organizations that adopt a true customer-centric perspective can generate a low-risk, high return opportunity. To help your business reach this state of genuine customer-centricity, the authors first explain how customers see your brand and make purchase decisions. They then explain how to convert that understanding into a clear view of what customers really value. These are the actual (and potential) generic category benefits. The book also examines the management challenges to creating these benefits.
The last chapter sums up by providing six rules to becoming "simply better": Think category benefits, not unique brand benefits; think simplicity, not sophistication; think inside, not outside, the box; think opportunities, not threats; for creative advertising, forget rule 3; think immersion, not submersion. This last principle refers to the authors' discussion of important arguments in favor of managers getting out of their offices and directly interacting with customers. This kind of immersion works because it avoids distorted images of customer reality, it helps filter indirect data such as market research, it acts as a source of storytelling and anecdote, and it spreads the results of both learning and the act of learning.
If you decide to read this book, rather than the excellent article-length distillation, you'll find some other fine points that often go well beyond the article. Contrary to the usual concentration on measuring customer satisfaction, Barwise and Meehan make a strong case for measuring and monitoring the drivers of *dissatisfaction*. They add to what seems to be a recent trend by emphasizing the risks and drawbacks of flanking strategies that require strategic innovations, arguing that it is usually better to be an excellent imitator. Chapter 6, "Customer-Focused Mind-Set", sets out a refreshing (though not truly original) view of "fast and right processes and a pure air culture". These honor the practices of "hard work decision making", "accountable experimentation", and a culture in which challenge and debate are seen as forces for good throughout the organization, and where no one expects an easy yes to proposals.
1. Useful basic text books and reference books that cover the entire gamut of Marketing and are useful for those about to embark on their marketing careers. In Marketing the classic examples would be Kotler's series in Marketing Management in all its many editions and variations, or for European audiences the late Peter Doyle's Strategic Marketing Management.
2. Useful reference guides for those familiar with Marketing but who feel uncertain in certain aspects of the profession, such as pricing or event marketing.
3. And finally there are books that argue a definite point of view about the profession. These are the books I am most likely to recommend to seasoned marketers since they invite reflection on current behaviors and challenge existing mental models. Simply Better falls into this last category of books.
In truth I rarely manage to read an entire book in this last category. Too often the point of view would have been better expressed (if less lucratively for the authors) in a business journal article. I have already grasped the major thrust by the end of the second chapter and the rest is just padding. Simply Better I read cover to cover.
That is not to say that you need to read to the end to understand the main tenet of the authors' argument. You can grasp that easily within the first few pages. It is cogently summed up on page X of the Preface:
"You need not offer something unique to attract business. Customers rarely buy a product or service because it offers something unique. Usually, they buy the brand that they expect to meet their basic needs from the product category - gasoline or strategy consulting or mortgages - a bit better or more conveniently than the competition. What customers want is simply better - not more differentiated - products and services."
And if this paragraph seems to you in any way to defy conventional wisdom - then you will understand why this is the book that I am now recommending to seasoned marketing professionals.
Simply Better is worth reading cover to cover because it deals in depth with the vexing but essential paradox of Marketing: If Marketing is so conceptually easy to understand, how come it's so difficult to do properly?
That so many companies find it difficult to deliver something better to customers is powerfully demonstrated by the authors' inclusion of data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which depressingly show that in the last 10 years - a decade during which customer satisfaction has been more has been written about, talked about, and even measured than in any previous time - customer satisfaction is now lower than it was in 1994 - and has been lower than the 1994 figure for the entire decade. If Simply Better can spur marketing executive thought and preferably action to do something about this - then its publication is indeed timely.
Barwise and Meehan carefully dissect the problems and the myths that have plagued good Marketing practice and have deflected attention away from the fundamental task of delivering what the customer wants. They recommend that it is time to refocus thinking "inside the box" instead of on fanciful flights of fantasy "outside the box". They point out that customer contact means more than taking the odd one of two out to sporting events. To learn what customers really really want, requires purposeful, and sometimes uncomfortable and even embarrassing visits by executives (including non-marketing executives) to see their products and services in action.
The authors have been careful to back up their thesis with data from research and many anecdotes. The engineering company Hilti perhaps suffers from a little bit of over-exposure here (although the anecdotes from Hilti are particularly memorable) - and Hilti's inclusion is understandable given that Sean Meehan is the Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management at IMD. At least Hilti provides a much needed offset to perhaps an over preponderance of examples from the world of business-to-consumer marketing as opposed to business-to-business marketing - but that is hardly a fault peculiar to this book alone.
If there were one issue I really wish they had given a lot more space to, it is the difficulty in making the delivery of total customer satisfaction "happen" in very complex large global organizations. Here the issue is one of alignment - aligning large numbers of marketing professionals who are not only scattered around the world but additionally charged with executing a very wide variety of tasks that real Marketing demands including strategy and planning, executing and enabling the marketing and sales organization to communicate the promise. These professionals in turn are required to get alignment from the rest of the organization such that the entire organization delivers on this promise. Barwise and Meehan are aware that the "grind and vision" that they quote from Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' Built to Last is part of the requirement to get such alignment, but in the Chapter they devote to this important topic they place too much faith in corporate values as the solution to this problem. Perhaps it is because they have acknowledged tha this issue is a "so-called soft" issue (p26) that they have dismissed it too easily. Most marketing professionals in large global organizations (and especially those in business-to-business and high tech companies) certainly do not experience the difficulty and need for organizational alignment around the delivery of a better customer value proposition as in any way "soft." Rather, it becomes the sole focus of their "daily grind." But perhaps this is a topic for a book all on its own - and one I hope tha Barwise and Meehan write about - if only because they write so eloquently.
In the meantime, I can only applaud Barwise and Meehan for confronting us Marketing professionals with the uncomfortable truth - if we ever thought we were customer oriented, we need to think again. Barwise and Meehan highlight the areas that require immediate re-thinking. I am sure that all customers everywhere hope that the resulting re-actions will result in positive benefit ... at last.