Zigging when others zag

The Anti-Amazon: T.J. Maxx

A strong commitment to a clearly differentiated strategy is serving T.J. Maxx. One of the hardest things for a business to do is say, "no, that's not our customer," but they know what they're doing in ignoring e-commerce. 

Forbes: How Walgreens and T.J. Maxx Are Winning With Minimal Online Sales, 2017-May-25 by Barbara Thau

The retailer’s store vibe — disheveled racks, DMV-esque lighting, barebones customer service —belies the oft-cited “experiential” checklist of what a brick-and-mortar retailer is supposed to need today: mobile checkout options, sales associates with the chops of a personal shopper, and perks from cafes to cooking classes.

T.J. Maxx has none of that.

What they do deliver shoppers is the thrill of the hunt of designer duds for a song. It marks the work of a 1,000-person buying organization and global-sourcing gurus that collaborate with 18,000 vendors from more than 100 countries in a bid to fill its unglamorous stores with an ever-changing mix of fresh and surprising finds.

As a result, T.J. Maxx is “un-Amazonable,” Chen [Oliver Chen, retail analyst at Cowen & Co.] in another research note this month. That’s because “customers engage in an in-store treasure hunt, many brands have preferences not to be online, and average ticket and prices are sufficiently low relative to shipping costs of $5 or more.

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Why the strategies of Google, USAA and Vanguard have been so effective

When we decide how we want to compete, we have to look at how we're going to fit into the market, both from our customers' point of view, as well as from our internal capabilities. 

Harvard Business Review: Strategic Choices Need to Be Made Simultaneously, Not Sequentially, 2017-Apr-3 by Roger L. Martin

The only productive, intelligent way to generate possibilities for strategy choice is to consider matched pairs of Where to Play and How to Win choices. Generate a variety of pairs and then ask about each:

  • Can it be linked to an inspiring, attractive Winning Aspiration?
  • Do we currently have, or can we reasonably build, the capabilities that would be necessary to win where we would play?
  • Can we create the Management Systems that would need to be in place to support the building and maintenance of the necessary capabilities?

Those "Where to Play" and "How to Win" possibilities for which these questions can plausibly be answered in the affirmative should be taken forward for more consideration and exploration. For the great success stories of our time, the tight match of Where to Play and How to Win is immediately obvious.

  • USAA sells insurance only to military personnel, veterans, and their families — and tailors its offerings brilliantly and tightly to the needs of those in that sphere, so much so that its customer satisfaction scores are off the charts.
  • Vanguard sells index mutual funds/ETFs to customers who don’t believe that active management is helpful to the performance of their investments. With that tight Where to Play, it can win by working to achieve the lowest cost position in the business.
  • Google wins by organizing the world’s information, but to do that it has to play across the broadest swath of search.

It doesn’t matter whether the strategic question is to aim broadly or narrowly, or to pursue low costs or differentiation. What does matter is that the answers are a perfectly matched pair.

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Unhealthy growth

We seem to have a growing awareness that unbridled growth is not healthy. 

Signal v. Noise: Exponential growth devours and corrupts, 2017-Feb-27 by David H. Hansson

As Douglas Rushkoff says, we need a new operating system for startups. The current one will keep producing the same extractive and monopolistic empires we’ve gotten so far. No, what we need is a new crop of companies that are institutionally comfortable with leaving money on the table. Leaving growth on the table. Leaving some conveniences and some progress on the board, in order to lead the world into a better direction.

The solution isn’t simple, but we’re in dire need of a strong counter culture, some mass infusion of the 1960s spirit. To offer realistic, ethical alternatives to the exponential growth logic. Ones that’ll benefit not just a gilded few, but all of us. The future literally depends on it.

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Finding the best clients by cultivating conversations about our processes

Alex Mather points out that moving away from supplying a commodity means finding and nurturing relationships with people who are interested in creating unique and powerful work. Those people will expect a journey and not a product. 

Red Lemon Club: How to Survive the Biggest Creative Job Decline of All Time, 2017-Feb-1 by Alex Mathers

Meaningful art and design that makes an impact on its users is growing and vital, and relies on ‘expert practitioners’ who understand process to carry it out well with their clients.

But at the other end, commodity products and cheaper labour allow others to get a vital start on projects and businesses that can eventually develop into ones that do rely on more focused design expertise.

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Why getting to NO is a better start than fishing for a YES, via Chris Voss

We can enjoy a terrific interview with Chris Voss published by Talks at Google. Chris is the reigning educator on negotiating skills, and his book is Never Split the Difference

  • Yes is a commitment, no is protection (not a problem, just a good beginning)
  • Make your counterpart (not adversary!) feel safe, and they grow more creative
  • Hesitate and let your counterpart think
  • Don't ask for a 'few minutes to talk,' instead say... 'is now a bad time to talk'?
  • Summarize the other person's point of view, even if it's not in your favor. Get them to say 'That's right' because that means they know you've recognized their interests. Now you have a shared truth.

And so much more, and it's fun as well as informative. 

 


Defy best practice, be unprofessional, and innovate in marketing

Innovation and best practice are the yin and yang of management. Too much of one and you die, too much of the other and you disappear. Loyal behavior is actually the key. If you are committed to your customers' best interest, understand your strengths and values, then you can be wild and crazy without losing your toe-hold on reality. 

Marketing Magazine (UK): Marketing Needs to Become More Unprofessional, 2016-Feb-27 by Craig Mawdsley

Professionalism is about reducing variation.  It is about creating a predictable and correct way of doing a given thing that can be repeated by anyone who has that professional qualification.  It is there to remove the individual from the process, because as long as the person providing the service has a professional qualification, then it doesn’t really matter who they are.

For the creative industries, this is a very, very bad idea.

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Cultivating good luck in your work and your life

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In a recent edition of the NY Times Sunday Review, Pagan Kennedy published a musing on the talent of using serendipity to discover both patterns, some embedded, some emerging from our lives and environment. 

NY Times: How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity, 2016-Jan-2 by Pagan Kennedy

As people dredge the unknown, they are engaging in a highly creative act. What an inventor “finds” is always an expression of him- or herself. Martin Chalfie, who won a Nobel Prize for his work connected with green fluorescent protein — the stuff that makes jellyfish glow green — told me that he and several other Nobel Prize winners benefited from a chain of accidents and chance encounters on the way to their revelations. Some scientists even embrace a kind of “free jazz” method, he said, improvising as they go along: “I’ve heard of people getting good results after accidentally dropping their experimental preparations on the floor, picking them up, and working on them nonetheless,” he added.

Kennedy doesn't seem to be aware of Glenn Llopis' book Earning Serendipity... 

This practice of earning serendipity, my father once explained, is not governed merely by corporate laws but also by universal laws like attraction, responsibility, and reciprocity. The effectiveness of earning serendipity is not measured merely by unique visitors, volume, and profits but also by influence, compassion, and impact. Its time is not bound by nine-to-five but by birth and death. My father would conclude, “¿Ahora, que ve ante usted?”— Now, what do you see before you? It is the same question I ask you now. What might your work look like if you possessed the skills to regularly see, sow, grow, and share the best opportunities before you? [Emphasis added.]

What I've discovered is that "earning serendipity" is NOT easy. Being a restless explorer like myself helps, but cultivating and sharing your discoveries takes true discipline. You don't just see patterns... you see what they can become and you work to make it happen with other people.