I used to believe that as a presentation company, we dodged the commodity trap rather nicely. People just weren’t interested enough in our field, arguably the most mundane aspect of design (next to two-color business cards that is) to compete with us.

Earlier this year though, I was on a roadshow and our client was telling her audience why she hired us, she said, “I can throw a stone from my office and hit 10 companies that do what these guys do…”.

Actually, she couldn’t.

Her brain though, sorting machine it is, just grouped us in with the closest thing it could find i.e. every other company that hired designers and editors. It’s not her fault, it’s what we’ve trained our brains to do.

I was outraged though, I wanted to argue. I wanted to rush the stage and condemn her to the masses as wrong. What stopped me was the realization that in her mind she was right, and perception is as good as reality. The way I see it you can spend time arguing the problem or you can skip the headache and simply work the solution.

So, now we have competition. Every single company our clients’ brains decide to lump us with. We are a commodity. The bad news is this, so are you. With almost no exceptions. Even the most unique product will eventually be commoditized in the minds of your clients. It’s not an issue of if just of when.

So why did she hire us then?

Well, according to her it was for all the little things we do, the things that have nothing to do with the product we supply. My belief is this:

The product and service we offer categorizes us, everything else we do defines us.

You can beat commodity, you’re probably just trying too hard at the big category related things that your clients’ brains are gonna render redundant eventually.

Sure getting the product better-than-expectation is a must.

It just ain’t everything…!


Well. I agree (a little..) and disagree the same time, with the article. I know that in order not to be treated as commodity you have to sell very very nicely yourself. Sure… you need to “define” and “differentiate” yourself.
You need to provide solutions that bring money to the client. In this way you are not a commodity. you are an ASSET!
And believe me there is difference between those 2.
IF, someone else has ideas that bring more money to the client he is an additional asset or a better asset…, also.
Think on why you choose your account/sales managers. For the same reason. So a firm good in providing web solutions that bring money to the client is better than just good or even excelent design solutions.
For the second one a client can indeed “throw a rock, etc…”. For the first he sells his soul. Or his manager’s soul :-)

Perception is more important than reality. I think I’m going to live by that one. You’re only as good as they think you are.

That’s why you always have to make your unique selling point clear, everywhere. Smack it in the head of these people, they need to know how good you are.

Brilliant! Quality isn’t everything – everyone rants about it all the time. Sure quality’s a given – but it isn’t EVERYTHING. There’s relationship-building and there’s communication and there’s trust and a million other “human” things that we can’t measure and clients can’t consciously associate with.