Thursday, October 16, 2008

Analogy #214: Maid or Maiden

Once upon a time, a young man saw a bottle wash up on the shore. The young man opened the bottle and out popped a Genie.

The Genie said, “Thank you for letting me get out of that bottle. Out of gratitude, I will grant you a wish. Behold, I place two women before you…one a maid and the other a maiden. You must choose only one of them and she will be yours.”

The young man thought, “Boy, it would be great to have a maid to take care of all the things I do not want to deal with. The maid would do all the work while I have all the fun. But it’s not much fun being alone.

“On the other hand, it would be a lot more fun having a great time together with the young maiden. However, without the maid, I would be so busy with chores that I wouldn’t have much spare time to enjoy being with the maiden. I’d really like both.”

Feeling perplexed, the young man asked the Genie, “Wouldn’t be possible have a woman who is both a maid and a maiden?”

“Oh, no,” the Genie replied. “If you made the maiden work hard at maid chores, she would lose her beauty and charm. If you had the maid try to act the maiden, she would be in a world beyond her upbringing and not know how to act. No, you must pick one or the other.”

So the young man made his choice. Immediately afterward he scoured the beach looking for another genie in the bottle, so that he could request the other option and have both a maid and a maiden.

Successful strategies require choosing a position in the marketplace. Although there often are many positioning options to choose from, they tend to fall into one of two basic types. Either the position is like a maid or it is like a maiden.

A “maid” position is a one where you offer the solution of eliminating or reducing the effort in some task a person does not want to do. The idea is that if you hand over your problems to the maid, they will take care of the mess for you, so that you can spend more time on the things you enjoy.

A “maiden” position tends to be the opposite approach. Here one is offering an even better experience in something which you desire to do. The idea is that your enjoyable times will be even more enjoyable when accompanied by the maiden.

If you can own the position of the superior maid or maiden in your industry, then you have a great shot at success. People will choose you.

However, as we saw in the story, it is difficult to try to become known as both the maid and the maiden. For example, it would be difficult to believe that someone is the most qualified maid if they act like a maiden. You would believe that Maiden-like people wouldn’t want to get their hands dirty enough to clean properly. Their dignity would supposedly not let them act like a common laborer.

Similarly, a maiden loses some of her allure if she’s also known to be a maid. If she is such a good maiden, then why does she have to stoop to do common labor? It’s never a good idea to date the household help.

The principle here is focus and consistency. Focus on either being the maid or the maiden and then consistently act in a way which reinforces that focus.

For example, let us look at the world of computing. The Microsoft PC success has traditionally been based on being the best maid. It is designed to efficiently do all of that boring stuff at work for you, like spreadsheets and charts. You don’t need to know much about computing. The machine does most of the work for you, and it could work in just about any business environment. Not very glamorous or sexy, but it gets all that boring stuff done for you. The perfect maid.

By contrast, Apple is positioned as that sexy and glamorous maiden. It is known for helping you be more creative and have more fun with the things you like to spend time on, like listening to music or making movies. The machines look sexier, and the interface is more glamorous and alluring. The perfect maiden.

The problem came when the Microsoft Maid wanted to become more of a maiden. Out came Vista. Vista was a disaster on many levels. First, it didn’t seem to work as well as Windows XP. In other words, it was a less efficient maid—slower and more cumbersome. Second, although it was a bit more glamorous, Vista was an inferior maiden to Apple. You can put a fancy dress on the maid, but it is still the maid. By losing its focus and being inconsistent, Microsoft has suffered.

By contrast, Apple has been consistent in its focus by taking key technology elements to become the best maiden in music and mobile devices. Even the Apple retail stores are more maiden in their approach. The consistency has reinforced the Apple brand, giving each new brand extension a built-in maiden allure.

Speaking of retail, let’s turn our attention to Best Buy. Best Buy is essentially a maiden. It is positioned to help people use technology to make their lives more enjoyable. It’s all about maximizing pleasure. One of their old slogans was “Turn on the Fun.” There was logic to adding the Magnolia higher end Home Theater departments to Best Buy. After all, Magnolia was just a higher class maiden, helping create a more glamorous home enjoyment entertainment solution.

But then there is the major appliance section at Best Buy. You know, those stoves, refrigerators and washing machines off to the side of the Best Buy store in the area that doesn’t have any customer traffic. People tend to be more in more of a “maid” mindset when looking for major appliances. As a result, when Home Depot and Lowes started selling major appliances, they quickly overtook Best Buy in market share (and then some).

Home Depot and Lowes are positioned more like “maids.” They are efficient places to help you get all those nasty projects done. As a result, it was a more consistent fit to put maid-like appliances in these maid stores than in the Best Buy maiden stores. Of course, now that the manufacturers are trying to make the appliances sexer, perhaps Best Buy has a chance to fight back (although I’m not sure what the demand is for sexy washing machines).

Many articles have been written about the problems of being positioned in the messy middle. It is better to be seen more on the extreme—an extreme solver of problems (the maid) or an extreme provider of pleasure (the maiden).

In the competitive world of today, one needs to stand for something in order to survive. One way to look at positioning options is with respect to how you help a consumer improve their lives. Are you helping them by being the best at eliminating the drudgery (like a maid) or are you helping them by being the best at improving the pleasure (like a maiden)? Either option can succeed. However, once the choice is made, be consistent to that position and build upon it. And avoid trying to merge the two. There is a dis-synergy to adding the maid and maiden together.

Since most industries can support both a maid and a maiden approach, one has the opportunity to avoid direct competition by choosing the one not chosen by the competition. Direct competition usually leads to price wars and lower profitability for both of you. But if one of you chooses to be the maid and the other the maiden, then you can more successfully co-exist.

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