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Mining the miners: Business opportunities in the “choice” model of business

It may be so obvious that many of us missed it. But whether we noticed it or not, choice has taken over the marketplace. 

Mining the miners: Business opportunities in the “choice” model of business
[Adobe Stock / allvision]

It may be so obvious that many of us missed it. But whether we noticed it or not, choice has taken over the marketplace.

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By “choice,” I don’t necessarily mean in product—blue versus brown or luxury versus budget. I mean “choice” to be a diversity of delivery methods. Increasingly, businesses of all types, in every manner of market, are investing heavily in making their products and services equally available to their clients and customers anytime, anywhere, and in every possible way, entirely at the preference and whim of the purchaser.

We first saw choice with early generation websites and online ordering. Mobile functionality exploded that idea by offering the convenience of buying or doing just about anything remotely from a handheld device. However, it’s developed into much more than that now.

Consider Amazon and Netflix, which we tend to think of as online companies. Amazon now has physical, brick-and-mortar stores and also offers pickup options at secure locker locations—one retailer, three different ways of getting their products into customers’ hands. Similarly, not only can customers access Netflix content on a variety of platforms, but the company now owns at least three physical theaters and is opening its first retail store.

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Banking is another great example. Customers can do essentially all the same things in at least three different ways—in a physical branch, at an ATM, or on their phones. Even grocery stores have changed. You can order groceries and have them delivered, order online and have someone go to the store and buy your items for you, or you can go to the store and buy them yourself. A drive-through option isn’t enough for customers anymore; even McDonald’s now delivers.

It makes good business sense. The more access points to your goods and services, the better. No company should make it hard or complicated for customers to buy their products. But as this choice paradigm takes hold, there is a catch. Consistency. And that is where the opportunity lies.

In the long run, it does little good for a company to expand its delivery and access options if there is a quality gap. If, for example, every time you order groceries online the tomatoes arrive smashed, you’ll eventually stop ordering online. Worse yet, you’ll stop shopping at that store altogether. If the movies Netflix shows in their theaters have ads and the online content doesn’t, customers will give up the theater, based on quality and their experience.

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Having choice can actually hurt you if you’re not able to deliver the identical product across all the choices of access.

Education—a space I know well because of the nature of my business—is a terrific example of the choice-vs-quality balance. These days, there are several ways to get an education. There’s in-person learning and online learning and within the online option, there are even more choices. Basically, if you want or need to learn something, there is an option that fits your particular situation.

Nonetheless, in education as in the other markets, the challenge with so many options is maintaining consistent quality and experience. If students begin to suspect that one choice is worse than the others, fewer people will choose that option, usage declines, and the entire brand or even an entire market may suffer.

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Herein lies a business opportunity.

Our company powers testing programs for colleges and professional organizations. We don’t teach, have students, or offer educational content. Rather, we provide colleges and professional organizations with a way to offer choice to their customers—choice that maintains the same level of consistency in a classroom, in a staffed testing center, or online and at home via our company. It cannot be easier or more difficult to take an exam in one place versus another.

The business opportunity is recognizing similar opportunities to provide the service mechanism for companies that are not able to themselves or not able to do so quickly—while maintaining consistency.

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That’s how we’ve built and grown our company: by filling the gap of test delivery with a service that is consistent with an in-person testing experience the testing organizations couldn’t deliver themselves. At the heart of it, we are a quality assurance company, a consistency provider, and now we are bringing that same, forward-looking approach to traditional testing as well.

In the 1800s, Levi’s found their niche in a similar way. Levi’s developed a business that was easy, safe, and highly profitable. They did not mine for gold; they mined the miners. They sold products to those who were doing the digging. They filled a gap.

In this new and increasing era of choice, where customer options in mode of delivery is driving strategic investments, you don’t need to be Amazon. If you can figure out a way to help Amazon meet their quality obligations across an increasingly broad waterfront of access points, you can win. And if you keep in mind the growing demand for choice, seeing those opportunities is a little bit easier.

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Jarrod Morgan is the Founder & Chief Strategy Officer of Meazure Learning, the parent company of ProctorU.

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