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Sun 24 Jul 2005
Category : Commentary/authenticity.txt
I remember why I brought up the book, "Trading Up", a couple of posts ago.
I enjoyed that book (e.g., the story about how Victoria's Secrets came to be) and I'm probably not doing it enough justice, but the gist is, you either position your products at the low end when you can slog it out on price, or at the high end where you've developed an unassailable brand. But the worst is to be caught in the middle where you'll be decimated.
The best is to have what is called a "mass-tige" product, that is, a prestige product that confers status, which costs somewhat more than a standard product, but not too high that it's out of reach, yet will return significantly higher returns, even as you sell a whole lot of them through your ability to make them in consistently good quality.
This turns the traditional supply/demand curve on its head because when you're in the happy position of owning a masstige product, you can sell it at a high price and find that instead of selling less of them, you can actually sell even more of them because the price reinforces the perception of quality.
What, then, are the characteristics of such "masstige" items, so we'll know one when we see one, preferably when it's within our power to bring one into being? That was the purpose of the book to describe.
But among the characteristics are the following, if I remember them off the top of my head: they've firstly got to be clearly better built - better made, better designed, with a thoughtfulness that comes from an attention to detail - and they've got to be consistently good, even where they have idiosyncrasies and variations.
They've got to include a fair measure of technology, otherwise you wouldn't be able to reconcile the conflicting objectives of achieving consistently high quality while making production in quantity. Yet the technology is tempered by the existence of a story, to wrap the product in meaning, so that it speaks with a voice or an authenticity that will connect with the heart of the user.
There are other characteristics but these are the major ones. And they're the ones that have a connection with why I felt that the Mac had been the right business machine all these years. It's the idea of authenticity.
It's the idea that we have thought through all the reasons why we're in business, and that we've taken the utmost care to breathe life into our products, and that we will not stop at anything but the best to deliver that experience to the user - including harnessing the best supporting information systems so that it radiates quality and life and thoughtfulness and craftsmanship at every step of the way.
Of course most of those businesses covered in the Trading Up book probably aren't using the Mac but my point is, if you really know, would there be any question what you would choose? For me, the decision is obvious.
I can't achieve the authenticity, so to speak, if I didn't choose the Mac. It's not like I'm a crazed Mac freak, but it's clearly the only one that has a chance to resonate with all the other good intentions, if all I have is a choice of Windows, Linux, Unix, or the Mac. I mean, how can you speak with a singular voice, if you choose to use something simply because everyone else is using it? It's like, while reflecting on the potential of the technologies to properly support the business, have you asked "what does the brick want to be"? Have you listened to that inner voice and see how you can harmonise every aspect of the business so that it speaks with a consistent tone, colour, grace, and optimism? It's hard to see how the answer could lie in something as dead and soul-less as Windows.
That's why it's so hard to do the truly authentic thing. It's running against the crowd and listening to that inner voice. And keeping the faith.