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The need for differentiation: and why the customer is sometimes wrong

February 12 2015 3:36 PM

On the counter at Munson's coffee shop, in amongst the pastries, the pannetone boxes and the pots of apple and ginger porridge there is a sign that reminds you how customer service should be.

It says: "We do coffee. We do milk. We don't do decaf. We are Munson's."

I asked the girl behind the counter. "Some people don't like it, but they never come back", she confirmed cheerily.

I also noted that this apparent reluctance to accommodate customer needs extended to the till, where another note informed me that they don't take credit cards, adding helpfully that there is a cashpoint 50 yeards down the road.

So – as marketers – do we think they've got it right? I do.

Within 5 minutes' walk of Munson's there are at least 20 other coffee shops. In each of these, baristas will fall over themselves to do your coffee the way you want it: frothy, wet, skinny, nutmeg, extra hot, extra milky, whatever. In Starbucks, they even insist on (mis)spelling your name on the cup, just to emphasise how heavily personalised the service is.

Munson's does offer a range. But they decide where that range starts and stops. And it doesn't include decaf. And that makes Munson's different.

And somehow it seems right for Munson's to say that. It's a quirky place, but wonderfully individual. People go there because it is different, and being different (in this case) is more important than offering what the customer wants. 

And so we come to the B2B marketing parallel (this is a marketing blog, not a Sunday supplement). How distinctive are you? Are you daring enough to risk deflecting – even offending – some people in order to make your brand preferable to your real target audience? Would it help? Or is it better to try and keep everyone happy? Is it better to have lots of indifferent customers or a smaller number of loyal ones?  

Other coffee shops are so numerous you sometimes wonder how they turn a profit. Yet the notoriously inflexible Munson's stays busy.  

2 Comments

Gifford Morley-Fletcher

February 13 2015 11:26 AM

I love the comparison JB! Makes me think of the football chant - ‘No-one likes us, we don’t care’ - though obviously you need someone to like you or you are out of business. I definitely agree that distinctive is good, if not great, but in B2B it needs to be the kind of distinctive that your target audience relates to. To me, that’s what persona research and buyer journey planning is all about: finding that point of differentiation that grabs your audience and keeps them coming back for another ‘coffee’ as they travel down the purchase funnel.

John Bottom's avatar John Bottom

February 14 2015 11:00 PM

Thanks Giff. You’re right about the persona research. It’s one thing being strong enough to focus on just one part of a bigger audience. But that bravery counts for nothing if you can’t properly define that audience.

January 24 2017 7:11 PM

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