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Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't [Hardcover]

Jim Collins , Kevin Maney
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Sep 2009
A Fresh and Important New Way to Understand Why We Buy

Why did the RAZR ultimately ruin Motorola? Why does Wal-Mart dominate rural and suburban areas but falter in large cities? Why did Starbucks stumble just when it seemed unstoppable?

The answer lies in the ever-present tension between fidelity (the quality of a consumer’s experience) and convenience (the ease of getting and paying for a product). In Trade-Off, Kevin Maney shows how these conflicting forces determine the success, or failure, of new products and services in the marketplace. He shows that almost every decision we make as consumers involves a trade-off between fidelity and convenience–between the products we love and the products we need. Rock stars sell out concerts because the experience is high in fidelity-–it can’t be replicated in any other way, and because of that, we are willing to suffer inconvenience for the experience. In contrast, a downloaded MP3 of a song is low in fidelity, but consumers buy music online because it’s superconvenient. Products that are at one extreme or the other–those that are high in fidelity or high in convenience–-tend to be successful. The things that fall into the middle-–products or services that have moderate fidelity and convenience-–fail to win an enthusiastic audience. Using examples from Amazon and Disney to People Express and the invention of the ATM, Maney demonstrates that the most successful companies skew their offerings to either one extreme or the other-–fidelity or convenience-–in shaping products and building brands.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 217 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (15 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038552594X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385525947
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,412,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Technology journalist Kevin Maney coined the term "fidelity swap" to describe the choice consumers make between "convenience" and "fidelity," which is the quality of the experience that a product or service provides. People make such trade-offs many times every day. To illustrate, consider whether you would rather watch the Yankees play live at Yankee Stadium or see the game from the comfort of your home? Would you rather enjoy the experience of browsing the aisles of your local bookstore or have the convenience of ordering books online? Products or services that lie on either extreme of the fidelity versus convenience continuum are most successful, while those that offer neither high quality nor extreme ease of use fall into the "fidelity belly," where they are doomed to mediocrity unless they can swim out. In his engaging book, Maney expertly uses numerous colorful case studies to explain the fidelity swap paradigm and lucidly demonstrates how to adopt it as a corporate strategy. getAbstract recommends his work to businesspeople contemplating issues of price versus prestige, availability versus exclusivity, and what works in the market, what doesn't and why.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By AK TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While the book was recommended, I felt it fell significantly short of expectations. In effect it was a very average management book, without a particularly novel or insightful approach.

The author based the book around the basic principle that a company's products need to be either loved or needed, or as the author puts it - high fidelity or high convenience. The concept is not wrong per se, or harmful but it also provides no new insight. One could argue the author basically just paraphrased Porter's differentiation / cost leadership matrix and the book unfortunately moves this no further.

On top of that the execution is often poor. The same examples are repeated too often for such a compact volume, giving the impression that a book with 50 pages worth of content needed to be stretched to a more marketable 200. On top of that some examples (Tesla for instance) are chosen by someone with extremely superficial understanding of the industry, thereby the description is largely inaccurate and based more on marketing materials of the companies involved than on proper analysis.

If one really does not want to think too thoroughly about the management reading one does, Malcolm Gladwell (for instance Outliers: The Story of Success or The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference) will provide the goods in a much more polished form than Maney; if one is looking for more profound and timeless insight, the more classical management writers such as Drucker, Ackoff, etc. will provide it much better.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Compromises are inevitable and usually involve a trade-off in one form or another. In the business world, Kevin Maney suggests that there is an ever-present tension between quality and convenience, more specifically between what he calls "high-fidelity" and "high-convenience." He provides in this volume what Jim Collins suggests in the Foreword, a "strategic lens" that "does not in itself give an answer about what you should do, and not do. Rather - and much better - it forces you to engage in a powerful question, from which you derive your own insight and make your own decisions...The power of a strategic concept [such as the one Maney shares] lies first and foremost in giving us a lens and a stimulus for hard thinking and hard choices. The critical question is not its universal truth, but its usefulness. And in this, I think Kevin Maney has extracted a very useful framework."

Maney cites the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, as an example of a business leader who obviously did some hard thinking before making a critically important decision. During a program at a conference that Maney attended, "Hastings said that his strategic decisions at Netflix were driven by one simple core principle: People are willing to trade the quality of an experience for the convenience of getting it, and vice versa." It occurred Maney that Hastings' core concept "was a terrific lens for viewing the way the world works. It can be an invaluable insight when dreaming up new products, when positioning brands, when planning company strategy, or when analyzing competitors."

Each day, business leaders are required to make decisions that involve trade-offs of one kind or another. I agree with Maney that "how they play out in the marketplace is the key to countless business successes and failures.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If you can't be the best,...then be the most convenient." 25 Sep 2009
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Compromises are inevitable and usually involve a trade-off in one form or another. In the business world, Kevin Maney suggests that there is an ever-present tension between quality and convenience, more specifically between what he calls "high-fidelity" and "high-convenience." He provides in this volume what Jim Collins suggests in the Foreword, a "strategic lens" that "does not in itself give an answer about what you should do, and not do. Rather - and much better - it forces you to engage in a powerful question, from which you derive your own insight and make your own decisions...The power of a strategic concept [such as the one Maney shares] lies first and foremost in giving us a lens and a stimulus for hard thinking and hard choices. The critical question is not its universal truth, but its usefulness. And in this, I think Kevin Maney has extracted a very useful framework."

Maney cites the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, as an example of a business leader who obviously did some hard thinking before making a critically important decision. During a program at a conference that Maney attended, "Hastings said that his strategic decisions at Netflix were driven by one simple core principle: People are willing to trade the quality of an experience for the convenience of getting it, and vice versa." It occurred Maney that Hastings' core concept "was a terrific lens for viewing the way the world works. It can be an invaluable insight when dreaming up new products, when positioning brands, when planning company strategy, or when analyzing competitors."

Each day, business leaders are required to make decisions that involve trade-offs of one kind or another. I agree with Maney that "how they play out in the marketplace is the key to countless business successes and failures." That is what Maney characterizes as "the fidelity swap" and there are five key concepts behind it: fidelity (i.e. the total experience) versus convenience (how easy or difficult it is to get what you want), the tech effect (i.e. technology's impact on improving both fidelity and convenience), the fidelity "belly" (i.e. "the no-man's-land of consumer experience"), the fidelity mirage (i.e. that product or company can achieve both high fidelity and high convenience), and super-fidelity or super-convenience (i.e. this defines the "winners" such Apple's iPhone and Wal-Mart, both of which got to top of one axis or the other...but never attempted to reach both). Maney also identifies two significant additional factors: social accelerants that increase the importance of personal relationships even more and "wrecking ball" moments that occur when a new product or service (e.g. digital cameras in 2000) "smashes" a market sector and creates an entirely new one.

I was especially interested in Chapters Five and Six in which Maney discusses Super Fidelity and then Super Convenience. Is Super Fidelity possible? Yes, difficult but possible. Is it sustainable? Yes, but that's much more difficult to do. As Maney explains in detail, "Corning, the glass company, has thrived on high fidelity for 150 years." Others have done so for much shorter periods of time, notably the aforementioned Apple iPhones, Whole Foods, Cirque du Soleil, and Bose. "Perhaps no one in business understands fidelity better than casino owner Steve Wynn." With regard to Super Convenience, Maney cites and discusses several examples that include MTV, Century 21, McDonald's, and 7-Eleven. "One of the all-time kings of high convenience in the retail industry is Wal-Mart." However, as Maney then explains, Wal-Mart seemed to develop a corporate brain freeze" about 2000 when it "started doing things that were out of step with its long heritage in super-convenience," such as opening stores in the center of major cities (e.g. New York and Chicago) and carrying higher-priced, more fashionable clothes and advertising in upscale magazines. In an attempt to increase its aura, Wal-Mart was forgetting its roots as the lowest-cost retailer. Eventually, there was a corporate flaw, inner-city stores were closed, fashion ads and pricier clothes were eliminated, and a new marketing campaign was launched, based on the promise "Save money. Live Better."

In his essay The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin divides the world `s creatures into hedgehogs and foxes, based on an ancient Greek parable: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Jim Collins picks up on this idea in Good to Great when introducing the Hedgehog Concept, explaining that "it is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely critical." Near the conclusion of Trade-Off Maney recalls a moment while reading Good to Great when coming upon the discussion of the Hedgehog Concept. "It's the notion that great companies figure out what they can do better than anyone else in the world, and then relentlessly focus on that. But the Hedgehog Concept doesn't just apply to companies - it can apply to an individual, too."

Maney then recalls a conversation with Collins. "He said that there are two ways to get to the top. One is to climb an existing ladder, which can be a bit crowded. The other is to make your own ladder, and put yourself at the top. It's a twist on the Hedgehog Concept - if you can't be the best in the existing category, figure out what you can be best at, and create a category that fits." Few companies achieve and then sustain either High Fidelity or High Convenience. (To the best of my knowledge, no company has ever achieved and then sustained both simultaneously.) Committing to one or the other requires all manner of trade-offs, based on hard thinking to make hard choices. To those now involved in that immensely difficult process, Kevin Maney offers a wealth of valuable information in combination with sound advice. In fact, I presume to suggest that his book is a "must read."
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gladwellian Stickiness 28 Sep 2009
By Jim Muccio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In Kevin Maney's new book, "Trade Off - Why Some Things Catch On and Others Don't", we are treated to a simple world set apart from the latest theories on the complexity of our economic systems. Most intellectuals writing on the subject today will tell you how truly difficult it is to understand market pressures and the dynamics that determine what happens in our commercial market place. Even Malcolm Gladwell, who has given us the "The Tipping Point", which allows us to visualize how a product or service with sufficient critical mass, the right "stickiness", and the right combination of salesmen, connectors, and mavens a product might tip, catch-on as Maney would say, didn't quite give us something practical to use when making decisions.

Maney has given us something practical to use. He has given us a lens, as he calls it, a mirror as I would call it, to understand the very basics of human psychology when it comes to seeking out products and services. It's a mirror because the markets are a reflection of ourselves. First, since we are sensory beings we like to be fully engaged in a high fidelity environment. In essence we like the high bandwidth experience of being there, live and in concert. Second, if we can't be there in person, then we are extremely lazy. These are the two extremes. We pay for things that simulate our senses, or we prefer the habit of convenience where we don't have to use our senses at all. We are willing to pay for the convenience as well.

Gladwell was never able to definitively explain "stickiness", that unknown phenomenon that produces an attraction to a product or service. Maney has given us the essence of the Gladwellian "stickiness". It is that characteristic about a product or service that compels us to either love it deeply or require it as a necessity. The two extremes of that which we love, those high fidelity, high quality experiences that move our every sense which we are willing to sacrifice and pay top dollar for, or that which we need, to use, consume, and connect with everyday by either force of habit or necessity that must be simple, convenient, and cheap. The markets continuously trade between fidelity and convenience because every consumer makes the same swap in their daily lives. What can be more simple than that?

With all that has been written about the complexities of the economy and drivers of our markets Maney has given us something simply, intuitive, and even more important, fundamentally true. I have used his simple lens to view my own experiences and a host of other examples beyond what he has included in his book. I have not found a single instance where I would argue his fidelity swap lens does not hold up. Five stars for this very useful concept.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful comparison of quality versus convenience 28 Jun 2010
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Technology journalist Kevin Maney coined the term "fidelity swap" to describe the choice consumers make between "convenience" and "fidelity," which is the quality of the experience that a product or service provides. People make such trade-offs many times every day. To illustrate, consider whether you would rather watch the Yankees play live at Yankee Stadium or see the game from the comfort of your home? Would you rather enjoy the experience of browsing the aisles of your local bookstore or have the convenience of ordering books online? Products or services that lie on either extreme of the fidelity versus convenience continuum are most successful, while those that offer neither high quality nor extreme ease of use fall into the "fidelity belly," where they are doomed to mediocrity unless they can swim out. In his engaging book, Maney expertly uses numerous colorful case studies to explain the fidelity swap paradigm and lucidly demonstrates how to adopt it as a corporate strategy. getAbstract recommends his work to businesspeople contemplating issues of price versus prestige, availability versus exclusivity, and what works in the market, what doesn't and why.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping It Simple 8 Oct 2009
By Larry Underwood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1985, some marketing genius at Coca Cola thought it would be a great idea to change the formula we all grew to know and love, and replace it with something that tasted even worse than RC Cola. The public, of course, was outraged, so the brain trust of Coke wisely chose to (quickly) bring back the old formula; hence, the birth of "Coca Cola Classic". Brilliant.

In retrospect, the debacle over Coke's decision to introduce a "new & improved" formula seems to have been a clever ploy to wake us up from our complacency; we took for granted we'd always have our Coke, but after having it suddenly taken away from us, we were helpless; except of course, we switched to Pepsi; after all, it tasted better than that new stuff Coke was pawning off.

In a fascinating study by Kevin Maney, we find out why some marketing ploys work & why some, like Wal-Mart's venture into urban areas, flopped. What Maney observes is a trade-off a consumer encounters; in the process, the simple choice is made to either accept or deny the new choice. Specifically, are the choices categorized "high in fidelity" (such as going to a rock concert, which is usually an event of total chaos) or "high in convenience" (going into a "convenience" store?). The trade offs are usually clear, in hindsight; success or failure of a marketing initiative seems so obvious, after the fact. Sometimes, things work; other times, they're disasters, and a few marketing gurus are given their walking papers, while investors get whacked, at least in the short term.

The conclusion seems to be, stick to what you do best. If you're a low cost provider, don't try to get too fancy. Consumers aren't going for it; they've made up their minds what they like about your service, so don't try to second guess the tidal wave of popular sentiment. For some reason, we live in an age where we're given way too many options for stuff that is so mundane; but there they are; 47 different varieties of detergent. None of them are really any better; but we've got the choices, anyway.

Personally, the whole Coca Cola debacle soured me on ever buying their product again. Keep it simple, stupid; just keep it simple. Don't change things that don't need to be changed. Re-inventing the wheel is not a good idea.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book for light, quick business reading. 30 Nov 2009
By Florida Beachcomber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this to be a fine book, though I did not find that it stretched my thinking much. It uses a simple paradigm and once you grasp it from the first several pages, the rest of the book is mostly examples and a bit of refinement of the broad strokes. I enjoyed it as light business reading which contained some interesting case-studies.
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