Outsmart the MBA Clones

Outsmart the MBA Clones by Dan Herman should definitely be considered as a textbook for business programs. This book uses real-life recent examples of companies, products, and services we know, explains how their creative innovations worked, and how some were imitated.

Many companies and their products provide examples throughout this book. Starbucks, Google, Tower Records, Virgin, RIM’s BlackBerry, etc. The days of Marlboro Man ads that go on year after year without adapting, are over.

Most businesses are more similar than different. I’ll go as far to say, they’re basically the same.

Not to be negative towards MBA programs, but many programs produce sheep. They are educational “institutions”. Mills. Fair enough. The knowledge and skills attained in these programs are needed and these courses often focus on graduates entering positions in established companies. Outsmart the Clones can enable you to be more innovative, adaptable, and think outside of the box. It’s about tomorrow, not just today.

Successful concepts and products can often, but not always, be mimicked. Today, there are often multiple brands competing for consumers in the same market niche. Herman notes the “Commoditization of Brands,” where products are so similar consumers have trouble telling them apart. Obviously, once an idea or item that’s copyable is produced, many others will duplicate and follow.

There are sixteen chapters and three parts in Clones: 1) The debunking of Competitive Advantage. Today the focus should be on “Renewable” Competitive Advantage 2) O-scan, which focus on what customer will consume in the future 3) Branding.

The benefit of this book is that you don’t have to be in marketing, advertising, or management to benefit from it. There are also good quality illustrations, throughout.

One concept noted by Herman is about the consumer (us humans), stated on page 243: “consumers live their lives, and in the frame of everything they do and go through they are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to improve their existence. They search for solution to their problems, ways to prevent unwanted situations and experiences, opportunities to develop, improve, and advance themselves and their circumstances, and chances to have fun and enjoy live with their loved ones.”

Great point. And, a great book.

Gold Standard for Marketing a Brand.

This is a well-written book, ably illustrated, that is easy to read and appreciate.

A few flyleaf notes:

  • Real-time branding, leveraging opportunities instead of plans
  • Accelerated world, focus on customer psyche
  • Price is NOT a strategic obstacle or advantage
  • Differentiation is everything (at the 5% level)
  • Promotional campaigns of dubious value
  • Good management is not strategy
  • Market research flawed for its focus on aggregate (group) statistics instead of psychology of the individual consumer
  • Vision plus values can make a difference
  • Identify, Invent, Implement
  • Stellar use of examples through-out the book
  • Opportunity scan: content, consumers, market, competitors, us (from outer circle to inner sweet spot)
  • Very useful and thoughtful lists, easy to understand and reflect upon
  • 15 stages of consumption within which differentiation can occur
  • Loyalty bankruptcy a challenge
  • Hypnotic branding and Fear of Missing Out both can be leverage

Although I am a long-term strategist and focused on saving the Earth for my three boys and future generations, there is no question but that this book is the gold standard in short-term branding and market exploitation for short-term profit.

It was worth my while.

A Fresh Look at Short-Term Thinking.

Long-term strategies have been replaced by ones that adapt and change as opportunities are identified.

“Launch and forget” brands today, such as Marboro, are rare. They have been replaced by visual identities and advertising styles that change rapidly. To succeed over the long-term managements must succeed in the short-term time after time.

Dan Herman, citing observations from Copernicus Marketing Consulting, argues brands are becoming like commodities. Consumers can no longer differentiate them from sugar, corn or cement. They are created by marketers who employ the same data, the same focus groups and data analysis. The marketers have become indistinguishable.

In this new environment, Herman observes:

  1. Porter, Kotler, Aaker and Ries and their rules are obsolete.
  2. Marketers need to understand nature’s rules. They need to be able to devise alternatives paths to the same goals.
  3. Theoretical concepts are tools for thinking about reality. They are not reality itself.

If you are a seasoned marketer, this book is different from another you have read. Herman’s fresh thinking about competitive advantage, marketing, customer segmentation, differentiation and branding will challenge your thinking.

It is worth every penny of its cover price.

The Clones are coming….are you prepared to beat them?

I love the title of this book: “Outsmart the MBA Clones” — it gives me visions of some B Sci-Fi movie with an evil genius with a name like Brad Hammer creating evil clones to do his unholy bidding… but I digress. The REAL reason Dan Herman wrote this book is to give you, MBA or no MBA, a leg up on the competition in working business strategy, marketing or branding a product.

One thing clones do, says Herman, is to tend to commoditize brands or distinctive products by copying what each other is doing. The perfume industry is a prime example. If you go to the department store and close your eyes and spritz away, even allowing for olfactory fatigue, you will be hard-pressed to tell one perfume from another, and they all have sleek, oddly sculpted bottles with colorful stoppers and names like “Wicked”, “Wild Thing”, “Insatiable” or “Worried.”

When brands, writes the author, are diluted to the distinguished level of corn or ten-penny nails, the work of the marketer no longer can offer any strategic advantage to the company making the product.

Another fine section of the book enlightens the reader about the competition’s hidden rules of the game. If you don’t know the rules by which you are playing, you are sure to lose. So what are those rules?

There is plenty about old-think and new-think; how to design strategies to win in the new market arena.

I loved this book–it’s readable, has good illustrations and is a fine text for any business student, marketing manager or business leader. It’s very easy to read but chock-full of thought-provoking (and sometimes uncomfortable) ideas.

A revolutionary book that can give you the unfair advantage.

First, let me tell you who this book is for. It’s not just for MBAs or managers or CEOs or people in large companies. The title might lead you to think that. Not so.

This book is for anyone who is in business, large. In order to create a differentiation that won’t be imitated, you have to think beyond the core benefits that are already (or even potentially) considered important in your market. It works time after time. The companies that have succeeded in maintaining their differentiation over the years and weren’t imitated, even though they were making tremendous profits, are those whose innovations went beyond the core benefits of their marketer small. And it especially concerns itself with marketing.

Let me give you an example of what you’ll find in this fantastic new book.

“Successful differentiation has two defining characteristics: (1) it is not imitated by your competitors, even though (2) it brings you unmis- takable success with consumers. Impossible, you say? Not really. I am about to reveal to you the unexpectedly simple and wonderful secret of successful differentiation. Here it is: do not look for it among the core benefits of your product category; rather, think off-core differ- entiation.”

Then Herman does just that. He tells you how to differ from your competitor and do it in a manner that your competitor can’t or won’t imitate. Amazing stuff!

He says, “Many companies have learned this the hard way. Tower Records created a differentiation for itself with a great core benefit. It enabled its music customers to listen to the music they were thinking about buying. “A great idea!” said Virgin Megastores and copied them without even blinking an eye. Today, you’ll find this service in all music stores.

Starbucks thought its coffee shops would be cozier and look more like a neighborhood hangout if the seats weren’t identical and if some easy chairs and sofas were scattered around. What a great idea! Today, you’ll find this type of seating in many coffee shops around the world.”

So what do you do if these things don’t work?

“In order to create a differentiation that won’t be imitated, you have to think beyond the core benefits that are already (or even potentially) considered important in your market. It works time after time. The companies that have succeeded in maintaining their differentiation over the years and weren’t imitated, even though they were making tremendous profits, are those whose innovations went beyond the core benefits of their market.”

OK. I won’t give away any more of this valuable book. I encourage you to read it yourself.

Most business books are pretty much the same. I was very surprised. But, I shouldn’t have been. After all, this is the master or how NOT to be a clone. So why would the book be a clone?

This is a revolutionary book with such valuable ideas and information that it really will give you the unfair advantage. I know it has given me the unfair advantage. I put it right to work.

Herman says that all of us in business read the same things and, in general, do the same things. Thus, we get to about the same place. To wit, we’re clones.

So we must outsmart the clones and this book gives us the tools that we don’t learn in school or books or the many ebooks we can buy online.

This is a one-of-a-kind book and I highly recommend it.

Turn your MBA toolkit into a weapons system.

Masters degrees in Business Administration (MBA) are not only being taught in elite schools, but in nearly every university, college, and diploma mill that can find some way to get accreditation.

Most of the programs teach their students similar concepts in the core subjects of Financial and Management Accounting, Finance, Economics, Statistics, Operations, Organizational Behavior, Information Systems, Marketing and Corporate Strategy.

If everyone has the same tools and book of tactics, including how to differentiate your company and create a competitive advantage, how can you actually compete and win? Worse, these kinds of programs train these managers to work, think, and fit into the large companies that hire MBAs by the campus-full. That is why this book refers to MBA Clones and provides an approach that takes a different tack than standard MBA thinking would see.

It isn’t that what you learn as an MBA isn’t valuable, it’s that learning the core of a business program provides you with only a basic toolset. You still need to learn to apply them. However, if you apply them like everyone else (the problem with `best practices’) you aren’t creating a compelling advantage. The best business folks are artists and use their toolsets in powerfully creative ways to win in the marketplace.

Dan Herman is a Ph.D. and CEO (and co-owner) of Competitive Advantages Ltd. Through which he and his team serve companies all around the world. Their goal is to help their clients identify growth opportunities and creating `unfair’ competitive advantages. Along with this Advantagizing they help create powerful and compelling brands and profitable business models.

In part 1 of this book provides a look at what Herman’s views on some common myths of Competitive Advantage (that you have to be better than your competitors, that you have to endear yourself to as many customers as possible, and that your competitive edge is to be found on a parameter that is important in your business category. He then provides a secret to Differentiation and uses examples from Virgin, Google, Starbucks and others to show you what he is after.

Part 2 explains their O-Scan (opportunity scan) method. It is about identifying insights about customers and what they are GOING to want (rather than what they are demanding today). You also learn to use a customers 15 stage consumption process to find points of pain and opportunity, to provide more consumer benefits, and seeing the hidden rules your competitors are using to win.

Part 3 is provides Herman’s views of Branding. First you have to understand the consumer’s mind. I found this discussion of how the consumer experiences things, what they are trying to do, and how they for their beliefs to be quite interesting. Herman also rejects the idea that Branding creates brands. He says that it is the real success factors that you have identified previously that will provide substance and power to your brand. He provides the ABCDE of Brand Success: Attribution of benefit, Believability, Craving, Differentiation, and Ease of acting upon their desire.

For Herman, brands are more about expectations, anticipations, and dreams that take them out of their hum-drum reality. It is about adventure, temptations, testing limits, nostalgia, and much more. The goal is to make your marketing electrifying to your customers. He also provides interesting chapters on developing marketing hits and how you can drive your consumers crazy about your brand.

Is all this absolutely original and unique? Look, I have an MBA from the University of Michigan Business School and what he says here is consistent with what I learned there. The expectation I had upon graduation was to use what I learned creatively. What Herman does is help those interested in turning the toolkit you were given into a weapons system. And I think that is very worthwhile.

The real deal.

This book, which I was privileged to read as a review copy of the publisher, contains a totally new approach to marketing, one that is not taught in business schools, one that is geared to today’s changed consumer environment. For example, to read the author’s description of the Joe Boxer phenomenon is for old fogies like me to have a lightbulb on the culture suddenly turn on.

The book is full of extraordinary insights. A true page-turner, I highly recommend it.

Interesting, well-written. Good exercises, examples and ideas.

I am afraid that I have been dilatory in reading and reviewing this book. At the time of the offer, I appreciated the chance to read the text. It sounded like something that I would like and I always enjoy discovering a new author.

Unfortunately, I went through a bad place where I started to hate all business books. I had the feeling that everything I read was more or less the same. I also started to feel as though most business books begin with a single good idea. Sometimes the exploration of that idea is worth an entire book. Mostly, however, I had the feeling that I was reading a puffed-up magazine article.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Dr. Herman’s book. I found it smart (maybe because I intuitively agreed with many of his ideas) and quite readable. There is a nice assortment of exercises, ideas and examples that flow together well.

I found it useful to gain insight into the success of my own company’s brand. Best of all, I found that it earned its 253 pages. There was very little puffery, if any. I would recommend it to others who are looking to build or develop their business.

Well done. The best business book that I have read in a while… READ MORE