Tool: chain of meaning

If you ever get a chance to hear Andrew Zolli make sure you do. He’s a great speaker, weaving compelling ideas and statistics into a story and injecting it with the right amount of humor.

I saw him last week where part of his talk included his idea of the “chain of meaning” where a raw material can go from commodity to product to service to experience (see a summary at Core77 and in an older deck from Zolli). It’s not too different from Tom Peters’ progression of products -> services -> experiences -> dreams.

from coffee beans to coffee grinds to coffee to starbucks

It occurred to me this is not just a way of understanding what has been done, it’s another business development tool. And it’s not just a one-way progression; there may be times when, for example, you’ve created an experience but also see an opportunity to compete on price and move down the chain to product.

Lately I’ve seen the result of not understanding the chain of meaning. In Manhattan on 23rd St. between 7th and 8th Aves two businesses opened in the past few weeks: a bakery and a barbeque restaurant. Both are charging well above market prices, presumably because they think customers want to trade up. But neither offers an experience, and neither has the brand pull of a Nathan’s on Coney Island (where they can charge something like $4 for a hot dog). As I stood at the window of the BBQ place reading the menu I heard a man next to me talking on a cell phone: “They want twice as much as anyone else for barbeque? They’re crazy.” When New Yorkers call you crazy, you’re really crazy.