Where are my peanuts?

peanutsI’ve been reading “Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders” by Adam Morgan, and as any AdWeek publication, it is a wonderful and captivating read filled with a lot of actionable insights.

Today I wanted to point out the important trend that consumers expect that every service category has more and more in common. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s every service category had its own rules of engagement with its consumer:

  • car dealers treated you one way,
  • fast food treated you in its own fashion,
  • airlines were airlines,
  • and son on.

Consumers were ok with this idea and generally accepted it.

However, nowadays consumers are aware of what is possible and should be expected for their money in ANY service category. For example, would people in the 1940’s expect a bank to be open on Saturday or Sunday? Would somebody in the 1960’s demand to be able to buy car insurance at midnight?  Those things are now possible.

In the “Eating the Big Fish”, Morgan explains how consumers educated by quality of service or experience in one business, transfer those expectations to every category in which there is a service transaction. Take a look at this testimonial from a participant in a focus group on airlines:

You know, I have a dry cleaner at the end of my street. It’s just a little Italian guy doing his own thing, no big company or anything. I took him a work blouse on Monday, and I needed it in a hurry. “No problem”, he says. So on the way home I picked it up in the evening and it turns out it’s missing a button and he’s replaced it with another just the same, without even making a big deal about it. Doesn’t charge me anything extra; like it’s all just part of the service.

Well, then on Wednesday I get on the flight to New York, and I ask for an extra packet of peanuts because I haven’t eaten any lunch, and the flight attendant tells me I can’t have any more because she only has one bag of nuts per passenger to give out. And that doesn’t hold up for me. When I look at how much more money I give the airline each year than my dry cleaner, and how many more people they have working for them, and the infrastructure and everything, I just don’t understand how they can hold their heads up and say stuff like that.

This idea is resonating more and more nowadays, especially with the current price wars of wireless phone carriers.

Who’s leading the pack in aggressive pricing in the U.S.? Sprint. Take a look at this ad from the HTC EVO 4G:

sprint wireless plan

You may say, yes but Spring, AT&T and Verizon are in the same business.

Yes, but we are talking about the service they are providing.

Verizon and AT&T were capable of separating the “unlimited talk” service from the “unlimited texting” service and “unlimited data” service.

Sprint is saying: not anymore.

Don’t think this is a powerful idea? Then take a look at the recent Virgin Mobile ads in August 2010.


Quality of experience and the expectations that engenders a service category are no longer tied to that single service category. The evolution of other service categories create new standards of customer service that are going to become the standards of EVERY customer service category.

Author: Damian Davila

Ideas and concepts from Damian Davila, Ecuatoriano thriving in Hawaii. Pro marketer and blogger. Find him at @idaconcpts on Twitter.