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Brand Management

Finding The Flaws In The Pursuit Of Quality


The Pursuit Of Quality Requires Endurance

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space transportation, with the ultimate goal of “making humanity multi-planetary.” SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that winning a Pentagon contract for satellite launches is a coup for as he pursues his goal for SpaceX to become a “… trusted, long-term military launch provider.” SpaceX accomplished this success by consistently delivering its brand promise SpaceX of disciplined, ongoing pursuit of quality.

Consistent satisfaction of customer expectations is the customer-focused definition of quality. Live up to expectations, consistently. Promise what you will deliver. Deliver what you promise. Knowing that the french fries you eat at McDonald’s are the same everywhere every time is a statement of quality.

Quality is in the eye of the customer. One quality guru defined quality as conformance to customer expectations. Another quality guru defined quality as the extent to which a product successfully and consistently serves the user’s purpose. Quality is all about living up to expectations. The Pentagon trusts that Space X will take off, deliver its payload and return, as promised. Lexus’ “relentless pursuit of perfection” is a message for us about the brand’s quality.

The Flaw In The Quality Matrix

We are all familiar with the consultant’s favorite 2 x 2 matrix. The goal always seems to be the upper right corner. This is what New York Magazine employs for its back page “Approval Rating.” They place cultural items in a 2 x 2 matrix with axes labeled Despicable-Brilliant and Highbrow-Lowbrow. The best box is high on Brilliant and also high on Highbrow. This is New York Magazine’s opinion of what is “in good taste.”

The defining example of foolishness is the famous 2 x 2 matrix. When it comes to quality, the traditional upper right-hand corner approach of the 2 x 2 matrix does not work. And, yet, there it is in the presentations. Quality is, at its most basic definition, consistent conformance to customer expectations. This is where SpaceX is winning. It is also where Amazon wins. Lexus wins here as well, as does Carvana, Peloton, M&M’s and Cheetos.

Variability is not good. A variable brand is risky. The customer expects a brand to be consistent in delivering its promise of a relevant, differentiated trustworthy experience, each time, every time, every time, everywhere.

When it comes to assessing quality, the two key factors are customer perceived expected average performance and expected performance variation. As variation decreases, customer satisfaction increases. In other words, high average performance expectation combined with low variation is good.

When it comes to quality, the highest quality brands are in the lower right-hand quadrant, high on expected average experience and low on expected variation. A brand is not high quality if it has high variability, even if it has high average performance. Why would I continue to buy something when each usage provides an erratic experience… even if on the average it lives up to expectations?

Quality Is A Continuum

This is the Law of the Diagonal. It is not Euclidian geometry but basic marketing common sense. When you array competitive brands in a consideration set on a quality chart with customer expected variability on the horizontal axis and average performance expectation on the vertical axis, the brands will distribute on a diagonal from the upper left (high variability – low average performance) to the lower right (low variability – high average performance): an assortment of diagonally arrayed brands. Quality is a continuum; it is not a 2 x 2 classification.

In his Financial Times commentary, Mr. Hill quoted the CEO of the design firm, IDEO, who said that the 2 x 2 matrix is the strategy consultants’ favorite space, as the upper right-hand box is “nirvana” and always just out of your grasp. Keep in mind that because “nirvana” is out of reach, consultants wind up with a very profitable annuity. In the case of quality, the upper-right quadrant of the 2 x 2 matrix is not just misleading; it does not exist. Quality exists on a diagonal.

Here is a brand-business marketing tip: Get rid of the idea of discrete quadrants. Life is a continuum, not distinct boxes. Quality lives on a continuous diagonal, not in four arbitrarily defined, discrete boxes.

As the management guru, Peter Drucker wrote, “Quality is not what the supplier puts in; it is what the customer gets out.” If customers find that your brand is inconsistent, all your good intentions will not help. Consistency is critical. Promise what you can deliver. Deliver what you promise. Live up to expectations… every customer, every time, everywhere.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Light, CEO of Arcature

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, build strong brands and profitable businesses. Please email us for more.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

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