Trying to combine Premium Quality with Exceptional Convenience is a futile pursuit.
There is a strong temptation to reject the premise of the “Quality / Convenience” tradeoff. Why shouldn’t more features or lower price always be good ideas?
This is a dangerous strategy that appeals to bold ambition and promises an unassailable market position. Unfortunately, pursuing both Quality and Convenience is likely to land a team in the Mushy Middle, where they can’t win on either axis.
The problem is that consumers don’t want BOTH Quality and Convenience. They choose which is important and then pursue the product that gives them the highest level of EITHER Quality or Convenience.
Appealing to both drivers at once offers surprisingly little additional value. This is the Mushy Middle problem. Being above average in both Quality and Convenience isn’t as compelling as being really good in one or the other.
As a practical matter you won’t be excellent in both. Adding quality to a convenient product incurs costs (which reduce Convenience). Providing ubiquitous availability or cutting costs on a premium product improves Convenience but also diminishes prestige.
This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to Raise The Bar by adding quality or convenience to a product or service. That can be a good strategy for someone who is already a leader in their chosen Market Position. However, trying to be excellent in both quality and convenience … that’s looking for Neverland.
Make the hard choice. Excel in either Quality or Convenience. Trying to be both is a dangerous and futile task.
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.
- Have I chosen Quality or Convenience for my marketplace? Am I fooling myself?
- If I add Convenience to my Premium Quality product, how will that diminish my high quality experience?
- If I add Quality to my High Convenience product, how will that compromise my convenience? Have we slipped into the Mushy Middle because of the Raising Bar?
- Is anyone in my market pursuing Neverland? If so, where are they vulnerable? Quality? Convenience?