Edges and clusters

Most organizations have a sweetspot. That’s the product or service that leads to highest profit, retention, customer satisfaction and word of mouth. If you walk into a certain bar and order a draft beer, you’re more likely in that sweetspot than if you ordered, say, a Coke. A different bar might discover that the customer that orders a top-shelf martini is most likely to lead to the best outcome.

Over time, you’ll start to develop slight variations on your sweetspot. If one kind of martini is good, then a few are even better. Pancake houses start selling Swedish, German and even Brazilian pancakes. Insurance companies start selling a dozen different variations on whole life.

Clusters work because people are likely to be drawn to a crowd. They also work because making a good, better, best comparison gives us the confidence to go ahead and buy something. It’s not an accident that profitable products like cars come in so many variations–having a choice makes it easier to choose (at least for a while). When Heinz comes in four colors, you don’t have to decide whether or not to buy ketchup… you merely have to decide which color, and they win every time.

Clusters have a few problems. The first is that you inevitably leave people out. If your restaurant serves nothing but spicy food, then the odd duck who came with a group and doesn’t like spicy food is going to go away unhappy.

Clusters get boring. If all you’ve got is another variation of the same fundraising tool that’s worked so well for you, it’s hard to get a meeting with me (again).

And most of all, clusters make it hard to develop new sweetspots. First-class long-haul travel was a great sweetspot for Pan Am, but when the world changed, they got hammered.

So, consider this: not just clusters, but edges, too.

Maybe your bar ought to start selling amazing hot chocolate.

It’s hard to make outliers, because it’s so tempting to gradualy work your way over, making each new product an extension of your sweetspot. That doesn’t work. It just adds skus to your life.

An edge needs to be sharp and abrubt and distinct in order to generate the light it needs to thrive.