The Mushy Middle

Products die when they offer neither exceptional value or exceptional convenience, sinking into the “Mushy Middle”    

“Mushy Middle” products and services are caught in a value proposition no man’s land.   Their quality is fine … but  not high enough or unique enough to take business away from the superior niche offerings.   The convenience is “OK” too … but there are cheaper and easier substitutes that are still “good enough”.

If boutiques provide unique “High Fidelity” clothing and Walmart dominates as the “High Convenience” leader, how are general department stores like JC Penny likely to appeal to a customer?    The “Mushy Middle” is neither good enough or cheap enough to compete.

The market place is split in two, with the middle ground being a market position … without a market. 

The “Mushy Middle” is often where new products begin and old products go to die.   It is essential to escape with a focused strategy.

Incremental changes seldom alter the competitive equation. For products and services to survive, an organization must commit to a “Fidelity – Convenience Tradeoff” energetically pushing toward either a High Fidelity OR High Convenience experience.  

Takeaway

Average middle of the road performance is dangerous.  Get out of the Mushy Middle or risk stagnating and dying.

A Good Read

Multiple authors make this point.   My favorite is “Trade Off – Why some things catch on, and other don’t” by Kevin Maney  (Kevin calls the Mushy Middle the Fidelity Belly).   In “Treasure Hunt”  Michael Silverstein, discusses the peril of the Mushy Middle when traditional companies underestimate the strategic  advantage of High Convenience retailers like Walmalt, Aldi, and Dollar General.       

Brainstorming Questions

  • Is my product clearly the best in its class?
  • Is my product / service clearly the most convenient in its class?
  • Has any other new product / service changed the relative value / convenience of my offering?  Have we slipped into the Mushy Middle because of the Raising Bar?
  • What’s the best path out of the Mushy Middle for us?  High Fidelity or High Convenience?

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