Crucial messages need not be complex. The simple message of Simply Better is that in single-mindedly pursuing differentiation, many companies have failed miserably in their stated goal to be "customer-focused". Except for relatively rare instances, customers care little for the addition of unique features and clever innovations. What they really want is the reliable delivery of "generic category benefits" - products that *work* and reliable services that take place on time. Although companies often dismiss this as "table stakes", the data show that businesses fail to deliver these basics far too often.
If time is of the essence, it is my editorial duty to let you know that you will find most of the important ideas of this book in the authors' MIT Sloan Management Review article, "Don't Be Unique, Be Better." Barwise and Meehan do not entirely dismiss the conventional wisdom that competitive positioning and differentiation require companies to offer customers something they cannot find elsewhere, but they do insist that this has distracted companies from maintaining a true customer focus and from delivering the essential category benefits valued by customers. The only area in which differentiation is clearly the right way to go, they argue, is in your advertising and marketing messages. Elsewhere, they urge companies to think "inside the box" by refining, perfecting, and delivering on the essentials that customers badly want. The failure of companies to do this has created deep customer dissatisfaction.
The good news in this is that organizations that adopt a true customer-centric perspective can generate a low-risk, high return opportunity. To help your business reach this state of genuine customer-centricity, the authors first explain how customers see your brand and make purchase decisions. They then explain how to convert that understanding into a clear view of what customers really value. These are the actual (and potential) generic category benefits. The book also examines the management challenges to creating these benefits.
The last chapter sums up by providing six rules to becoming "simply better": Think category benefits, not unique brand benefits; think simplicity, not sophistication; think inside, not outside, the box; think opportunities, not threats; for creative advertising, forget rule 3; think immersion, not submersion. This last principle refers to the authors' discussion of important arguments in favor of managers getting out of their offices and directly interacting with customers. This kind of immersion works because it avoids distorted images of customer reality, it helps filter indirect data such as market research, it acts as a source of storytelling and anecdote, and it spreads the results of both learning and the act of learning.
If you decide to read this book, rather than the excellent article-length distillation, you'll find some other fine points that often go well beyond the article. Contrary to the usual concentration on measuring customer satisfaction, Barwise and Meehan make a strong case for measuring and monitoring the drivers of *dissatisfaction*. They add to what seems to be a recent trend by emphasizing the risks and drawbacks of flanking strategies that require strategic innovations, arguing that it is usually better to be an excellent imitator. Chapter 6, "Customer-Focused Mind-Set", sets out a refreshing (though not truly original) view of "fast and right processes and a pure air culture". These honor the practices of "hard work decision making", "accountable experimentation", and a culture in which challenge and debate are seen as forces for good throughout the organization, and where no one expects an easy yes to proposals.