What is your passion? One of mine is (trying) to understand what makes a success. Why do people choose certain things over others, especially in consumer context, and why do certain companies become a phenomenal success.
So what makes a success? Conventional wisdom tells us that only the strong survives, and that either the best products or services or the cheapest wins. And of course that makes a lot of sense. Until you ask yourself: is it true?
And then you look around. Are McDonald’s hamburgers the tastiest burgers or the cheapest? Is Vodka Absolute the best or the cheapest vodka? Are IKEA’s furniture the best quality or the best value furniture? Is Whatsapp the best messaging platform or is Facebook the best social network? And the list goes on.
Now wait a minute, you surely say, what about branding or availability? These companies have fantastic brand awareness and you can find them anywhere, right? That’s undeniably true. However, the question remains, why did products which were not as good or cheap as some of their competitors get to be so powerful in the first place? Where did they get the momentum and resources to grow as well as they did?
Before we try to answer that, let me tell you a story about … yellow cheese and a guy called Victor Dorman. A native of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Mr. Dorman served as an ensign in the Navy aboard a submarine chaser in the Pacific During World War II.
The cheese company in point had been founded by Mr. Dorman’s father, Nathan, an immigrant from Lithuania who began delivering cheese in Manhattan by horse-drawn wagon in 1896. For decades, the company was a family-managed business, specializing in the sale of large quantities of such varieties as Swiss, Muenster, Edam, mozzarella, provolone, Jarlsberg and Gouda.
The hero of our story, Mr. Dorman, has inherited his father business, and then faced a difficult question: How do you grow the business? If you increase the quality of the cheese, then prices will go up – and you lose customers. If you reduce the quality of the cheese and lower prices – you lose customers too. Besides, his competitors could easily match those moves, so there would be little or no value in making them. A trade off.
But then came the revelation.
When consumers were asked about why they’ve bought a particular brand of yellow cheese, they’ve come up with reasons such as “quality”, “price” and “taste”. But Mr. Dorman felt that that’s not the real reason they buy.
Until the late 1940’s, cheese had been sold in bulk and sliced in grocery stores. With the advent of supermarkets and self-service, consumers were left with a choice of the less accessible, time consuming, more expensive cheese sold in grocery stores or the vacuumed packaged cheese in the supermarket. A trade off.
Dorman has realized that people aren’t buying yellow cheese. They are buying the capability to prepare something to eat that you can take with you in very little time and with very little effort. In other words: a yellow cheese sandwich.
So, in the early 1950’s, Dorman used the “interleaver” — a machine that cut a slice of cheese, placed it on a conveyer belt and then – with mechanical fingers – laid down a piece of paper. This ended the consumers’ struggle with pieces of sliced cheese that stick together – and getting their “quick, easy to make at home bite to eat”.
Victor Dorman was a man of many achievements. But he was best known for being the person who “placed the paper between the slices of cheese”.
What made Dorman a success? He understood what people really buy, even though they themselves didn’t understand why and then he found a way to give it to them.
In other words, Dorman taught them something new: he introduced them to a new experience of buying. And once they got used to this new experience, he could slowly reduce the quality (and correlative cost) of the product whilst increasing its price – thus earning greater returns.
He didn’t sell the best cheese, the tastiest cheese or the cheapest cheese. And yet, he won.
He didn’t realize it, but he was a game changer. He reframed the market in a new way, and acted upon this strategic reframe with new concept. Can you do the same in your business or ideas for a better world? I believe so.
This blog will be a journey for understanding what is game changing, and how it is done.
You’re welcomed to join the ride.