“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” – Gertrude Stein (“Sacred Emily,” Geography and Plays, 1922)

Great companies are not excellent at everything they do. Great companies tend to be great at one thing, good at another thing, and acceptable in all other areas. This is something I learned years ago — and it is the basic premise of “The  Myth of Excellence,” by Fred Crawford and Ryan Mathews.

Half of the book (the part where the authors insist that the world of marketing has changed because customers now want “clarity, certainty, and trust” rather than hype and discounts) is total hogwash. But the other half — the “myth of excellence” half — makes a lot of sense.

You don’t want to try to achieve excellence in every aspect of your business. The main reason you don’t is that you’ll never be able to do it. If you try — really try — to be excellent at everything, you’ll more than likely become mediocre at everything instead.

The second reason you don’t want to go that route is that it will send the wrong message to your market. When people want to buy cheap, they look for cheap-looking marketing packages. When they want to buy quality, they look for quality. If your market values customer service, you’d better make that a priority. If it values easy access, you’ve got to focus on that.

The “Myth of Excellence” identifies five aspects of business:

1. price

2. product

3. access

4. service

5. experience

The perfect business, the authors argue, is not excellent in every one of these. Taking “5” as “perfect” and “1” as “terrible,” the ideal business would score a “5” in one area, a “4” in a second, and a “3” in each of the other three.

The idea is that you need to distinguish yourself as truly excellent in one thing, very good at another, and competent (so you don’t disappoint) in everything else. Sam Walton has done that with Wal-Mart. It scores a “5” in the price category, a “4” in the service area, and a “3” in everything else.

This idea dovetails perfectly with my idea about competence and mastery. You can’t be masterful at everything you do in life. It’s better to become masterful at only one thing at a time (a financially valuable and valued skill, if you are interested in making money), to be very good at a second thing, and to be competent at everything else.

Mother Nature is stingy with excellence. You’ll do better personally — and so will your business — if you figure out what kind of animal you are and adjust your focus accordingly.

If you are a quality-oriented business, spend 80% of your marketing time, energy, and resources promoting (and producing) quality. If price is your mainstay, spend the lion’s share of your attention on that.

What are you? Figure it out. Then act accordingly.

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