While attending the PRSM conference, I had the opportunity to hear Jim Pancero speak. A sales trainer, Jim brings decades of experience to his advice and guidance (going all the way back to selling room-size computers for IBM in the 1970s). As a part of his presentation, Jim presented “The Evolution of the Competitive Advantage”
Using a structure resembling Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Jim’s pyramid shows the most fundamental advantages at the bottom that form the foundation for the most advanced, meaningful, and effective at the top. Reflecting our information-centric and accessible age, Jim places Connectivity & Info Control as the most sophisticated and effective competitive advantage. To illuminate this further, Jim provided the example of Amazon, the paradigm in our current market of giving consumers immediate connectivity and powerful tools for controlling the information an individual is looking for.
Following that intro, Jim added an element to his framework that particularly caught my attention: the different ways that Baby Boomers and Millennials see and experience competitive advantage. Jim proposed that Boomers make their buying decisions based on the bottom four elements of the pyramid: location/proximity, products, service, and brand. While not easy to achieve the advantage in any area (perhaps excluding location), these are all petty straightforward and understandable advantages. Millennials, on the other hand, assume all of these qualities to be true in any product. Jim’s reflection was that the quality control efforts of the 1980s narrowed virtually all gaps between quality of products and led to further compression of any differential on service or brand. Millennials have only known this situation and assume all of these in any buying decision. As a result, Jim proposed that the Millennials’ buying decision is instead based on the top three advantages: brand, speed/simplicity/ease, and connectivity & info control.
I find Jim’s framework compelling because it helps avoid the trap that the values of Boomers and Millennials are mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite, in fact. The fundamentals of quality product, excellent service, and a distinct and authentic brand are core to the Boomer view of a company and the foundation on which Millennials will make any decision. Without all three in place, the value that leads to a relationship and transaction will not exist. However you may judge it, the Millennial view and expectations, based on their experience and the myriad factors of their generational context, requires more – thus the focus on the additional three advantages. And yet, it's a mistake to think these advantages don't impact Boomers. While their decisions might be based on the foundational four elements, the additional can impact a decision. Again, a false dichotomy is possible, while the top of the pyramid is of great influence to the Millennial, it is not irrelevant to the Boomer.
As a result of this framework, it becomes increasingly clear how important it is for a company to have a multi-faceted communication strategy. Differentiating the messaging of competitive advantage is increasingly crucial. That said, we all need to realize that tending and attending to all seven elements of Jim's hierarchy are essential as the market is made up increasingly of both Boomer and Millennial decision makers and a successful company needs each set of competitive advantages in place in order to be successful.