Only is better than best

There are only two directions a business can take to build a strong value offering:

1 – Enhancing an existing value the market

2 – Bringing a new value to the market

Generally speaking, 1 is weak and 2 is strong. As I’ve argued many times before, delivering a greater degree of something is far less powerful than being the first to offer that something. “Only is better than best”. However this perhaps makes things sound easier than they actually are.

In truth there is something to be said for strategy 1: at least you know people care about what you’re offering. There is no speculation required. The market has established that X is something people want, and you’re simply going to give them more of it. This makes such strategies rational, safe, comforting, and of course popular.

Strategy 2 on the other hand is fraught with risks.

The most obvious of these is the possibility that you are going to bring a value offering to the table that people don’t want. But that’s only the half of it.  Perhaps even more challenging is understanding what constitutes new value in the first place.

When trying to build a strong value offering, many people make the error of thinking that if they are doing something “new” they are by definition bringing “new value”.  This is not the case. The word “value” is very carefully chosen to represent the result of what you are offering, not the thing itself. Just because your product is different from others that doesn’t mean it offers different value – or any value at all for that matter.

An obvious example of where you see this misunderstanding is with food and drink products that utilise quirky ingredients.

People think that if you manage to bottle say, cactus water (I don’t know if that’s a thing but I imagine it probably is), then you’ll have a hit product on your hands because it’s new and unique.  But this is incorrect.  People won’t buy something like cactus water just because it’s different (at least not more than once).  They’ll only buy it if it provides new value.  At this point a founder will typically say “of course it provides value – it’s packed with anti-oxidants / vitamin C / protein / whatever”.  Fine, maybe that’s true.  But it’s not new value.  You’re just giving people something they can get elsewhere in a different, unfamiliar shape.  That’s not a compelling offering – especially as consumers are inherently conservative.

Another example of “faux value” you see a lot these days comes through brands trying to make soap / toothbrushes / bed sheets / socks / etc. direct-to-consumer propositions.  You know exactly the type of brand I’m talking about; those pseudo Allbirds / Caspar / Hims kind of outfits, also known as “blands”.  Arguably all these brands are children of the original “bland” (which was anything but), Dollar Shave Club.  What they miss however is that shaving as a category was a very special case that was almost uniquely well served by a DTC offering.  Dollar Shave Club’s innovations brought genuine new value to that category in a way that most of its heirs do not with theirs.  Yes, they are all “different”, as they will delight in telling us.  But they are not different in a meaningful, valuable way.

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