In business school, you learned Michael Porter’s generic business strategies: cost leadership, differentiation, and market segmentation. And cost leadership is stupid1. My brain conflates differentiation and market segmentation into what I call – for lack of a better word – differegmentation2.
In the November THRIVEcast, Tim Williams said that differegmentation is not enough. According to Tim, you need to hyperspecialize, ultra-differentiate, and uber-brand.
This past summer, I had an opportunity to see what hyper-differentiation looks like when I took my family to eat at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas. In early 2012, the Heart Attack Grill made national news when a customer had a heart attack while eating a “Triple Bypass Burger” in the restaurant. I read that and knew I had to go.
Right after the 2012 AICPA PS Tech+ conference this past summer, my family (including my mother-in-law) picked me up at the Aria. We all needed lunch. This was my chance. My wife asked Siri for directions to the Heart Attack Grill because advanced Siri technology was not yet available on the Blackberry. And when we got there, I was blown away.
This wasn’t my first rodeo. I was introduced to the Carnivorgasm burger at The Vortex Bar & Grill in Atlanta back in March. I assumed the Heart Attack Grill had gigantic, greasy, cheesy, bacon-stuffed burgers, and I was right. What blew me away was their commitment to differentiation.
The waitresses were dressed as nurses. The waiters were dressed as orderlies. Before being seated, we were all given hospital gowns and bracelets. I thought that was fun and cute and went with their theme. Later I came to find out that if you refuse to wear the hospital gown and bracelet, they won’t let you in.
People over 350 lbs eat for free. There’s a giant, digital, industrial scale in the middle of the restaurant. If you want to eat for free, you’ve got to prove to everybody in the restaurant that you earned it. When the scale gets above 350, an ambulance siren goes off. (We got to see a guy register 444 pounds.)
The brilliant thing about the eating free deal was that the big boys got a “Single Bypass Burger” and fries. Not to give too much away, but you don’t achieve 350 on single patty burgers. The deal gets big eaters through the door, reinforces the company’s differentiator, and gives away the equivalent of a cheese cube on a toothpick.
Then came the kicker. I asked for a Diet Coke. No deal. They don’t have any diet drinks at all3 because it doesn’t fit their brand. Instead they sell cigarettes.
Their Butter-fat Shakes come with a pat of butter on top.
My kids hated it which bummed me out. (My mother-in-law hated it which made no difference.) Grady was as angry as a 13-year-old who was told to take out his ear buds at the dinner table. I felt marginalized because I was in Sin City and couldn’t indulge my raging Diet Coke addiction. My wife was fun and cool because she’s always fun and cool. (If your wife’s a bitch, you lose. I win. Suck it.)
Because of their uber-branding, a horrible event like someone having a heart attack in their restaurant became great publicity on a national level. Just think, if that guy hadn’t almost died, I never would have tried one of their burgers.
Because of their ultra-specialization, I paid a premium for hamburgers and fries and (regular) Cokes. Honestly, I’m not sure how much of a premium I paid because I was in Vegas and everything seems more expensive when purchased in the shadow of an adult bookstore billboard. Regardless, if you hyper-differentiate and uber-brand, you will be able to charge a higher price. Michael Porter says it’s true. You gonna argue with Michael Porter? Didn’t think so.
By uber-branding, they were able to convert themselves from selling goods and services to selling an experience. The hamburgers kind of sucked, and the experience was not my thing, but I will never forget it, and someday I might even blog about it. By systematically creating a crystal-clear brand at your CPA firm, you will be able to go from selling accounting services to selling a memorable and engaging accounting experience.
By hyper-differentiating and uber-branding, you put your customers in a position to self-select their way out of your business. You won’t be right for everybody. The Heart Attack Grill was not right for me and my family. And that’s okay. You will retain only the customers that “get it.”
I asked Tim Williams when we should start the hardcore branding process. He said, “Apparently you didn’t read my book.” Tim Williams was wrong. I did read his book; I just couldn’t remember what it said. This level of branding needs to happen as soon as possible, but it’s only possible after you’ve identified your “why” which determines how you should differentiate yourself. However, people will still come to you who don’t fit your brand. If you’re hurting for revenue, feel free to take their money but still serve them in your niche-y4 way. If you’re doing okay, feel free to kick them out because, as customers, they don’t reinforce your brand.
Don’t be lazy like a 444-pound Heart Attack Grill patron. Start Differegmentating NOW.
1That’s why Wal-Mart heiress, Christy Walton, isn’t even one of the top ten richest people. 2Product uniqueness combined with a narrow market segment is referred to as a “differentiated focus strategy” which is clearly an inferior term compared to differegmentation.3They did have water available, but only because they’re required to do so by Nevada State law. 4Rhymes with “bitchy.” Don’t church it up, Blumer.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.