The Image of Exclusivity

In his May 12, 2015 article Taking the Fast Lane in the Handelsblatt Global Edition, Christian Schnell (schnell means fast in German) wrote about Porsche’s success in the U.S.

“Porsche keeps setting sales records in the United States, with double-digit percentage growth over four years. Of 190,000 Porsche’s sold last year, 47,000 were delivered to U.S. customers. The brand, part of the Volkswagen Group, has grown sales by double-digit figures for four years straight.”

Porsche is a niche player. It has a U.S. market share of only 0.4 percent. “It shouldn’t become much more than that to protect the car’s image of exclusivity, in Porsche’s view.”

“We have not set a figure as a target. Instead, we want to get a sense of how much we can expand the brand,” said Porsche-CEO Matthias Müller. “We’d rather sell a car less than one too many.”

Schnell noted: “At other companies, such elitist thinking has led to conflicts.” In 2014 the chief executive of Ferrari, Luca die Montezemolo, said he only wanted to build 7,000 cars per year. “The statement angered Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Ferrari’s parent company Fiat.” Not long thereafter, Montezemolo was out of a job.

It was an incident which the Porsche-CEO could not understand. “If Mr. Marchionne thinks he can turn Ferrari into a mass market brand I can only say: ‘A very warm welcome’.”

Unpuncturable

Unpuncturable – it can’t be punctured. No flat tire. 

The Marathon Plus is the only bicycle tire in the world which is allowed to describe itself as unpuncturable. It is made by the German company Schwalbe with its patent on a Pannenschutzgürtel – literally flat tire protective belt. The belt is five millimeters thick and is made of highly elastic rubber. Neither thumbtacks nor glass can cut through it.

The Marathon Plus tire is not only unpuncturable, it has a so-called anti-aging exterior. Schwalbe’s goal was to create a truly durable product, a deep-seated German desire to make things which have Beständigkeit – resistance, stability, permanence, constancy.

Schwalbe was founded in 1992 by the Bohle family. It has remained a family-owned and -run company. It is the leading bicycle tire company in Europe, operates worldwide. They describe themselves as tire fanatics.

„You’re gonna like the way you look”

In a competitive marketplace, service is how companies differentiate themselves from other companies selling similar products, especially if the products are of comparable quality (i.e. Toyota vs. Hyundai; Ford vs. Chevy). Americans expect good service after they have bought a product.

One service-related tagline is the Men’s Warehouse slogan: „You’re gonna like the way you look, I guarantee it.“ If there is a problem with the products customers purchase, Men’s Warehouse promises to take care of the problem to ensure they are happy.

Another distinctly American retailer is L.L. Bean, which grants a lifetime guarantee on everything it sells. If the customer ever finds the product to be unsatisfactory, it can be returned for a refund or replacement.

Americans also expect customer service to be accessible, friendly, and informative. Many companies have 24/7 call centers with toll free telephone numbers, as well as extensive websites with Frequently Asked Questions and other helpful troubleshooting information. These websites usually contain contact fields where customers can submit questions; American customers expect rapid responses to queries posed on a customer site, usually within 1-2 days.

Service: The occupation or function of serving; employment as a servant; contribution to the welfare of others; a helpful act; useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity; a facility providing maintenance and repair. From Latin servitium: condition of a slave, body of slaves, from servus slave.

Better and better

“The reliability of a product is understood to be how verlässlich (reliable, sound, solid, trustworthy, sure) are its functionalities at any given time.” This somewhat cumbersome definition communicates clearly what is of great importance to German consumers.

No wonder, therefore, that German manufacturers leave as little as possible to chance when developing their products. The Association of German Engineers organizes expert conferences on a on-going basis on the topic of technical reliability and maintains a working group on the subject. The Technical University of Hamburg has an institute with the same name – Zuverlässigkeitstechnik – literally Reliability Engineering.

It is no coincidence that the legendary Miele washer is known throughout the world for its reliability and quality, a product based on gewissenhafter (painstaking, diligent, meticulous) research.

A family-owned and -run company, Miele’s motto is Immer Besser – Better and Better, not only in the sense of striving to be better than the competition, but even more so in striving to offer the best Technik – technical solutions, engineering. Very much in the tradition of German Zuverlässigkeitsforschung – reliability research.

Miele dishwasher:

Intelligent, not independent

Team member to team lead. Product to consumer. Could there be a link between those two relationships? Could it be that how a culture defines the relationship between team lead and team member is similar or analogous to the relationship between the consumer (B2C) or the customer (B2B) on the one side and the product on the other? Between the consumer and the electronic device like a computer, tablet smartphone, or between the customer and a complex production system?

But analogous not in the sense that employees are tools, objects, inhuman – although certainly there are managers, organizations, companies who indeed treat their employees as means to an end. More in the sense that it is expected that the employee, the team member, get the job done, make work and life easier for management, for fellow employees, for internal or external customers.

In the American product philosophy, how intelligent should a product be: kitchen oven, washer, automobile, computers and their software, technologies which utilize forms of artificial intelligence? Intelligent in the sense of independent, of the user?

Just as the American team lead reserves the right to go from the strategic level down to the tactical in order to manage or even implement (player-coach), so too the American consumer (B2C) or customer (B2B) wants a product which can be managed, controlled, directed, steered, run.

See the print advertisements, including large banners for example in airports, stating „Company X runs SAP.“ Enterprise software, highly complex, but at the service, at the disposal, of the client.

Americans want intelligent products, yes, but not independent of purpose. And the user determines the purpose, not the product itself.

Oil change made easy

Hattinger Stahlbus GmbH has patented their oil drain, which makes draining automobile oil much easier. Their motto is: “The intelligent way to change you oil!” And it works like this:

“The stahlbus®-oil drain valve takes the place of the conventional drain plug. For the oil change, you unscrew the safety cap and attach the quick connect with the drain tube. Once this is connected the valve opens and the oil starts flowing into the catch. After disconnecting the drain tube, the valve closes automatically and you only need to install the safety cap.”

An intelligent solution to avoid spills and dirty hands. Made in Germany.

Good old watering can

Gardena is located in Ulm, Germany. With approximately 420 million Euros in yearly revenues it is Europe’s leading maker of gardening tools. Owned by the Swedish Husqvarna-Group, Gardena was founded in 1961 by Eberhard Kastner und Werner Kress.

One of Gardena’s products is the Micro-Drip-System. The Gardena website says: “Water your yard the intelligent way!” Watering manually is hard work and it leads to “uneven results.”

The Micro-Drip-System is a great relief, “because you only need to turn on the water (faucet, spigot) or to give the command into the system’s on-board computer.”

“The system does the rest of the work itself.” Instead of watering too much or too little, the grass and plants get just the amount they need as determined by sensors which measure humidity and rainfall.

Gardena tools are so intelligent that they can decide themselves how much water is necessary for even and uniform growth. This also saves water. 

Of course, the question remains if the proud homeowner would not prefer to demonstrate his or her gardening expertise by using the good old watering can.

“A work of art”

Penguin. An American publishing house (a part of Random House, which was acquired by Bertelsmann). A flyer tucked into one of their books purchased via Amazon. Quotes by reviewers about some of those other Penguin books: 

“A work of art. One of the greatest political biographies ever written.”; “How non-fiction should be written.”; “Magnificent. I finished it with a sense of exaltation.”; “One of the world’s most original and provocative thinkers.”; “A mind-altering book.”; “The most important book on the Second world War in decades.”; “When you read it, you feel like you can topple giants.”

Resumé

A persuasive curriculum vitae (resumé) in the American context stresses achievements, awards and areas of special competence. It is not an official document produced by a neutral party such as a government agency or an educational institution, but rather a testament to how what was learned has been applied in the real world.

Resumés in the U.S. are in a way (self-)marketing documents. Americans highlight not only their subject area expertise, but also their character strengths, such as persistence, discipline, teamwork and, of course, leadership. Every American reader of an American resumé knows that they are carefully written subjective statements aimed at a specific effect.

Oliver F.

A German. Consultant. Expertise in several areas. Primarily in change management. This guy is very experienced and very good. The following statement is on the landing page of his website:

My great strength is “putting my finger in the wound.” And I consider it to be the right, effective, honest, professional thing to do. To say what I think. I enjoy pointing it out to people when the “king is wearing no clothes”, espeically when his clothes are being praised by the people.

I do this with folks both at the top and the bottom in organizations. From C-Suite, to middle management, to colleagues in sales, all the way down to folks working on the factory line. In each case I do so in the language they speak and understand, and making sure that directness and truth take center stage.