There I was, sipping my morning coffee and skimming the local newspaper. Two news stories in the June 23, 2011, Clarion-Ledger seemed immediately significant when I turned the page and saw the headlines of the stories, one above the other. So what was it that made me feel something important was there just waiting for me to understand? What were the two stories telling me?
“FedEx expects higher growth” was on top, with “USPS nixes contributions” right under it. Seems FedEx expects the global economy to be up, and they reported a 33% increase in earnings for the quarter. Impressive. The Postal Service, on the other hand, was suspending contributions to the Federal Employee Retirement System due to losing money and needing to reserve cash.
Hmmm. How could it be that two organizations that both essentially do the same thing with the same goals (move documents and goods from point A to point B with an emphasis on speed and reliability) have such radically different outcomes in the same market? Remember the whole “Neither rain nor sleet…” thing, and the old “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” messages?
So what made the difference in outcome, when these two well-known brands serve the same market with very similar goals?
Here is what I think is the difference, and the lesson learned for me:
USPS is trying to do the same thing it has always done, only better.
FedEx, on the other hand, made its mission to do something entirely new and different. Sure you remember “Absolutely. Positively.” But do you remember what FedEx said next? The second slogan (not as good, but telling) was “It’s not just a package. It’s your business.” They understood the priorities and values of their customer. Certainty outweighed cost.
It was never the intention of FedEx to deliver packages more efficiently for cost reasons. They created a new way of doing business that understood new corporate values and priorities. So they created a new way to move documents and now goods. The emphasis was not on being the low-cost provider, but in addressing a different problem. They were all about providing unheard of speed, certainty and confidence to the customer.
Admittedly, my observation is casual, and not a business or scientific study. But that’s what it looks like happened as FedEx slaughtered USPS, which should have been anticipating entirely new ways to address customer needs. With their distribution system and workforce already in place, forward thinking would have kept others out of their rice bowl.
The takeaway for me is this: Whether we are an ad agency or manufacturing company, a professional service or a bank, a not-for-profit or retail, innovation is critical to long-term success. How can we reinvent ourselves to address new needs and concerns? How can we go beyond simply trying to do the same things we’ve always done while merely making operational efficiency improvements?
At some point, we cannot deliver if that’s all we do.
FedEx Express Ad