Fast, good, cheap, and something else

Just about everything we buy these days is a premium product in the sense that we could either get by without it or go for a cheaper alternative.  We live in an age of abundance and to make a product stand out enough to get bought there has to be something special about it.  A lot has been written about this from the perspective of individual products and markets, often stressing the importance of great service, product quality, going the extra mile, and brand values like authenticity.  Tara Hunt’s The Whuffie Factor is a great example of such a book, with a particular emphasis on communities.

I am currently reading Peter Sheahan’s Flip which takes this thinking and makes it more general, arguing that that for a new consumer product to compete these days fast, good and cheap isn’t sufficient, you need something else on top, an X-Factor.  This is different to 20 years ago when the received wisdom was that a business needed only two of the faster, better, cheaper trio to win.

I buy into this, especially for startups whose products need to be much, much, better than those of their larger competitors.

Peter suggests six examples of this x-factor:

  • Fast, good, cheap + green
  • Fast, good, cheap + responsible
  • Fast, good, cheap + beautiful
  • Fast, good, cheap + easy
  • Fast, good, cheap + fun
  • Fast, good, cheap + healthy

I’m sure there are many more as well.  One that springs to mind is social.

A couple of examples from our portfolio are Lovefilm – DVD rentals made easy, and Graze whose food boxes are healthy and beautiful.

These x-factors are things people feel, rather than things that can be measured objectively, and successful products are the ones that evoke an emotional reaction.  Emotional reactions come from the details of a product and from how they fit into customers’ stories about themselves – both the stories they tell themselves and the stories for external consumption.  One of the reason’s people subscribe to Graze is because every time a box arrives it is a reminder to themselves and their colleagues that they are a) healthy, and b) the sort of person that enjoys high quality design.

For me the takeaways of this are reminders to focus on how products fit into customers’ stories and (in Peter Sheahan’s words) “to absolutely sweat the small stuff”.