If You’re Bucking the Standard, Make Sure You’re Great

by Emily Jasper on October 8, 2012

Deutsch: College of William and Mary in Willia...

Deutsch: College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (Virginia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gamma Alpha chapter of Phi Mu at The College of William and Mary recently withdrew from the formal recruitment process (previously known as ‘rush’). For those of you wondering what that means, it’s essentially the same as Jeff Bezos saying, “Why do I even need to open a store to sell books?” It’s also the same as Microsoft saying, “Zune is totally going to beat out the iPod.”

There are standards set in an industry often considered best practices. Following these, you should (in a perfect world) be successful enough to stay competitive. To top the industry, however, you have to do something different. You have to buck the standard.

In this case, Phi Mu is using an informal continuous recruiting strategy instead of the once-a-year formal process managed by the Panhellenic association. They are strong with this strategy, but are they strong enough to stand out?

Moving away from the standard is one of the main ways companies succeed. And it doesn’t even have to be complicated. Walmart took supply chain efficiency, something companies already work towards, and turned it on its head. Elizabeth Arden took a fragmented fragrance industry and centralized it to gain economies of scale in distribution.

In business school, you hear a lot about ‘first mover advantage.’ If you make a significant change to your business or come up with a new product, being the first means you can gain market share before competitors catch up. When you go out on a limb and completely change the way you do business, it can be frightening. If you’re terrified of failing, you also have an edge because everyone else is afraid of failing, too. Succeeding can guarantee market dominance for years. Failing, however, can mean that a competitor learns from your mistakes, and leapfrogs over you.

If you’re going to make a change that could shift the industry, you have to be great. It has to work for you, and you need to know that going in.

Phi Mu changing its recruiting strategy is a big deal because they could either crash and burn, or they could come out on top. It will depend a lot on how great they are at their alternative recruiting strategy. Just being different won’t be enough to stay competitive against the other sororities recruiting on campus.

That’s what companies must learn. Differentiation isn’t just about being different from everyone else in the market. It’s about that difference being valuable to customers. You could be different because you’re product is bad or you have poor customer service. Competitive differentiation is having that something extra that no one else can replicate. You’re so great at it, everyone wants to have it.

Being different to be different isn’t enough. Standards develop because they help companies and organizations be good enough. Being great takes change and a willingness to be out on your own. It also takes understanding that you’ve got the goods to succeed. 

What other organizations have you seen change the way they industry is shaped? Which ones continue to do that year after year? Which ones fail? Which ones just never get it? 


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