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Scott McKain

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Making “vanilla” distinctive is the great business opportunity…

If you think about business seriously, you realize that some of the great opportunities of our time are found in creating distinction in fields that many would term as “boring” or “vanilla.”

Sure, perhaps it’s more glamourous to momentarily fascinate the marketplace with glitz and flash.  More frequently, however, success is realized by taking something ordinary — and developing an approach that makes your organization stand out.

It’s an overused example, but Southwest took a business that was pretty miserable in terms service and performance – and created distinction by not only their humorous approach in the plane, but also by their consistent, reliable performance.

How frequently have you heard someone say, “I like Southwest – they don’t cancel flights and they get me there on time”?  Pretty often, I’ll wager.  Consider that point for a moment – you prefer them because of something boring: they did what they said they would do.

The point here is that creating distinction NEVER means you are focused on fluff or the fringes. 

It means that you are so innovative and so solid at delivering what your customer REALLY wants that you stand out in your marketplace.

Southwest would’ve received attention for the humorous pre-flight safety announcements.  However, distinction was created by the confluence of the fun…with on-time flights, almost never cancelling on customers, the simplicity of their reservation and seating arrangements, and more.

  • Many would say the F-150 is a boring vehicle compared to other options in the automotive market – yet, Ford has built them so well for so long it has been the best-selling automobile of any variety for most of the last 22 years.
  • Henry Luce was told in 1923 that a magazine about business would go broke quickly, because the subject was so boring.  He started Fortune anyway.
  • Water is pretty boring – yet, Evian and others are doing pretty well at selling you an unexciting product that you can access for free.

VanillaThere are some who would encourage you to envision ice cream as the metaphor for your business and that you should be pistachio, for example — and not vanilla — in order to stand out in the marketplace.

  • That analogy misses a critical point:  vanilla ice cream sales count for almost 25% of the marketplace; more – by far – than any other flavor.  I’d rather be distinctive at vanilla than any other variety. 

Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not saying your approach should be non-differentiated or bland!  I’ve read where someone says, “Don’t sell vanilla!”  I disagree – I think you should sell vanilla distinctively.

I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t be distracted by the bright, shiny object.  Creating distinction in a so-called boring field can be extraordinary.

Distinction is the result of substance – not splash.

Oh – and celebrate your success later this month:  July 23rd is National Vanilla Ice Cream Day.

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More Stories By Scott McKain

Scott McKain is a business leader, bestselling author, and Hall of Fame professional speaker.
Scott's latest book, "The Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails" reached the #1 spot on Amazon.com list of Customer Service Bestsellers! He is the author of two #1 additional business bestsellers (Amazon.com & 800-CEO-READ): "What Customers REALLY Want" (currently available in trade paperback) and "ALL Business is Show Business."
He is the Co-founder and Principal of The Value Added Institute, a think-tank that examines the role of the customer experience in creating significant advances in the level of client loyalty, and has appeared on multiple occasions as a commentator and analyst on FOX News Channel. His platform presentations have run the gamut from the White House lawn with the President in the audience carried live on CNN and NBC's "Today" show...to a remote outpost near the Amazon...all 50 states, seven Canadian provinces...and from Singapore to Sweden...Mexico to Morocco.
An inductee into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, he is also a member of "Speakers Roundtable" -- an elite, invitation-only group of twenty of the world's top business speakers.