Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't
By Kevin Maney
Broadway; 217 pages
Imagine two restaurants, one at each end of a block. One is a famous four-star establishment, known for its fine cuisine; the other is a McDonald's, popular for its low prices and speedy service. If the élite restaurant opens a branch on every nearby block, it will lose its cachet as well as its customers. Likewise, if the McD's starts serving pricey, five-course meals, its fans will take a hike. That's the central notion of this illuminating book. Maney, a veteran business journalist, calls this dichotomy the "fidelity swap." He argues that there is an inevitable tension between fidelity (quality and snob appeal) and convenience (low cost and ease). The secret of success is deciding which type of product you are selling and staying true to that goal.
It seems overly simplistic, but much corporate strategy revolves around trying to grow a brand beyond its core market. (Think low-end Mercedes.) But it's not doable, says the author, who refers to this aspiration as the "fidelity mirage." It's a trap that companies frequently fall into. "Contrary to what many businesses want to believe, achieving both high fidelity and high convenience seems to be impossible," he writes. "It looks tempting. Some companies believe they can get there, and life will be beautiful. But as it turns out, any company or product that attempts to capture both is likely to fail."
The author cites handbag maker Coach as a firm that fell to earth trying to bridge market segments. Since the 1970s, Coach had been known as a luxury brand with a status more like Louis Vuitton's or Hermès'. But from 2004 to early 2008, the company opened 94 new stores and dozens of outlet shops. By the end of 2007, same-store sales were dipping for the first time in years. Says the author: "Convenience acts like antimatter to aura and identity." Likewise, Motorola took its sleek, fashionable $400 Razr cell phone and flooded the market with it at a lower price. "It destroyed the Razr brand," says the author. "Consumers who once considered the Razr the high-fidelity phone now saw it as the cheap phone you get when signing a wireless contract." One consequence: Motorola's CEO left under a cloud.
And if a business falls in the middle, in what Maney calls the "fidelity belly"? Then "management needs to ask the question, Is our product on a clear path toward either convenience or fidelity?" If neither, it is on a clear path to trouble.
Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone
By Mark Goulston
Amacom; 234 pages
It's a measure of how contentious work relationships can get that the author, a psychiatrist, draws on hostage-negotiation techniques to instruct readers on how to deal with "defiant executives, angry employees or self-destructing management teams." A frequent reaction to such recalcitrance is arguing. Stop raising your voice, says Goulston. A better course would be to "listen, ask, mirror, and reflect back to people what you've heard." By making people feel understood, you are likely to see a more conciliatory colleague. Mission accomplished.
Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes, and Thinking Big
By Ralph Heath
Career Press; 191 pages