“No matter your occupation, you are threatened by the impact of the collapse of distinction.”

Collapse of Distinction recommends Maximum Customer Experience

Woot! Thanks, Scott!

I recently had an opportunity to review the new book Collapse of Distinction by Scott McKain, author of ALL Business Is Show Business and What Customers REALLY Want. As you can see from the subject line above it wasn’t by chance that his publicist contacted me, so I was just a bit excited to flip through his book. (Yippee!)

As always, when Kelly reviews cool stuff, you get free stuff! I’m giving away a copy of Scott McKain’s Collapse of Distinction to the best comment answering this question:

What do you think is the most distinctive company in your town, region, or country, and why? I’ll take entries for two days: now through Thursday, 14 May 2009, at 5:16 am EST. The winner will be announced shortly after that. Let’s hear from you!

The mention, I may as well tell you now, was a bit of a fizzle. The name of the blog isn’t quite correct, and the URL (web address) is from way back when I was a baby blogger on TypePad! Such is the printed word. Takes time to put together and in that time, things change. (I’ve been assured that in his online resources and in any future printing this will be fixed. Thanks, Kaila.)

On the other hand, it is probably the closest I’ll ever come to being mentioned in the same breath with Seth Godin, so I was all smiles.   🙂

MCE in McKain's Resources section

Me and Seth. Hangin’ out in the Resources section.

Vanity aside, I was curious as to what an author who cites yours truly as a reference would write about, so when the book arrived I dove in. I’ve been richly rewarded. Collapse of Distinction—maybe you guessed from the title—is exactly what we talk about here at Maximum Customer Experience on a regular basis.

My favorite section is right up front, in the chapter titled “How Did We Get in This Mess?”—a straight-to-the-point discussion of what destroys differentiation, like this on incremental improvements:

… in our… society, the bar is continually going to be raised….

But here’s the rub. When my competitor creates a point of differentiation, my natural inclination is either to merely imitate the improvement, or to attempt to incrementally improve upon the advancement…

Notice the problem: in both examples, my efforts are based on what my competitor is doing, not what my customers desire.

Yes, folks. Know the customer. You win if they win. You don’t win if you momentarily “beat” someone else. A favorite subject here at MCE. This guy gets it.

What do you need to create distinction? Scott McKain says there are four keys: Clarity, Creativity, Communication, and a Customer Experience Focus. He breaks them down—right down to the (great!) action steps which end each chapter—so that you can dig in to the points which cause you the most difficulty and start putting his ideas to work right away.

The book is full of thought-provoking analysis of this phenomenon and concrete advice to get your edge back. It would make a fine companion, coincidentally, to When Growth Stalls, discussed here recently and soon to be part of our discussions again.

The chapter on Customer Experience Focus is (of course) a big hit with your intrepid Experience Designer slash blog author. He tells a story that went right to my heart and my funny bone:

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy was joking about the phrases that we all utter without thinking. I laughed out loud when he mentioned that people hunting for a lost item often absent-mindedly announce, “I found it in the last place I looked!” Well, of course you did! Once you came across it, why would you continue searching?

I feel that way when I’m asked about whether an organization should have a “customer-experience” focus. I’m always thinking, “Well, where else could you focus? And why would you keep on searching?”

In his definition, “… your efforts—and your organization’s activities—[must be] wrapped up in ‘creating experiences so compelling that loyalty is assured.’”

I’ll keep trying, dear reader, but I don’t know if I could have said it better than that. All in all, this book will be an excellent addition to your library.

Who should read Collapse of Distinction?

Scott McKain says that “… whether you are an executive at a global conglomerate, a professional seeking greater success, or an entrepreneur running a small-town diner,” you’ll be able to put his work to good use. It actually reminded me a lot of a book I read a couple of years ago on career development, Wildly Sophisticated by the fascinating Nicole Williams, and I’d agree—it’s a very helpful read no matter who you are.

Scott’s ideas could definitely be applied to developing your “personal brand” to show why you’re unique and indispensable as an individual in your firm, but it’s certainly more targeted toward business owners and management. What’s wonderful about it is that though he’s now a top exec in a major corporation he has small-town, small-business roots, and this book seems to talk to us small- and micro-business owners as much as, or more than, it talks to folks at the Big Boys.

What’s distinctive about Collapse of Distinction?

Glad you asked. The book is from NelsonFree, a Thomas Nelson imprint, and the Free in NelsonFree means you get extra stuff with the book—once you register at Scott’s website, the book is available in e-book format and in audio format, at no extra charge. Neat!

The e-book is handy because you can easily search it for that one term that you loved so much (or company name, etc.), and there it is on your laptop if you need to refer to it when the book’s not with you. And I’m sure many MCE readers enjoy a long commute which could be made more interesting by listening to the audio format.

Having said that, those points of distinction are also its only real flaws. The e-book, downloaded after I’d read the hard copy so I could tell you about it, has not a word that isn’t in the printed book, which I admit disappointed me. (“No good deed goes unpunished,” as Scott says in the book. I hoped there’d be a little more in the electronic version, to reward me for downloading it!) The audio version… well, let’s just say that the downloads (by chapter) were veeeery slow. I gave up after three chapters. You’d have to want that audio version pretty badly not to be frustrated at that speed.

Thumbs way up

The smaller your business the more true it is. Your points a distinction are why we choose you. Know what’s unique about you; align your uniqueness with the customer’s pain; and communicate your uniqueness with all your energy. Scott communicates all of this in a fresh, meaningful way.

Creating differentiation doesn’t mean you have to become completely, totally unique from your competition from top to bottom. It simply means you must create small, solid points of distinction that are recognizable and important from the customers’ perspective, because customers perceive that different is better.

That message, so important to us here at MCE, is at the heart of Collapse of Distinction. It’s a brilliant read for any business owner worried that your product, service, or expertise is in danger of becoming a commodity.

Once again: Because you guys are the best readers and commenters anywhere and I want you to thrive on fresh ideas like Scott’s, I’m giving a copy of Collapse of Distinction away to the best comment on this post answering the question:

What do you think is the most distinctive company in your town, region, or country, and why?

(Feel free to howl and moan if you like, or cheer for other folks’ comments loudly (please do!), but to be clear: “Best” is entirely at the discretion of Kelly Erickson, the author.)

Though I realize, dear reader, that it’s not in your self-interest, I’d love it if you’d talk it up so we can hear from plenty of new readers, too! You have from right now through Thursday, 14 May 2009, at 5:16 am EST to submit a comment. Good luck!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Thanks very much to Scott McKain for including the Maximum Customer Experience Blog in such esteemed company in his Resources section, and to Kaila Murphy of Cave Henricks Communications for her kind email to let me know. Very, very cool!