Product Differentiation Dashboard

It makes economic sense to have more than one product version because of increased revenue generation[1].  There are additional reasons for versioning in addition to revenue generation. By having multiple versions of a product you can experiment and watch economic behavior as consumers will focus on the features and products that are most desirable. This sort of experimentation is the basis of monopolistic competition and the mechanism that allows the entrepreneur to successfully compete.  Product versions can be generated in a variety of ways including, distinct product features, product design, product promotions, product availability, warranties, and through customer service.

We have developed a product differentiation dashboard to assist with understanding the concepts and to help in determining how differentiation can improve revenues. The spreadsheet is currently in Beta development, but it is available for your perusal. The spreadsheet can be used with 3 products at this time. For now, it assumes that there is only one demand curve for the differentiated products. You can use the results from the Demand Dashboard discussed in the last post to identify the slope of the demand curve and the price where demand is close to zero.

Here is what you will enter in the Differentiation Dashboard.

  • The slope of the demand curve and the price level where demand is close to zero.
  • The variable and the fixed costs for a single product.
  • The variable and fixed costs for the high-end, mass appeal and low-end products.

Here is a link to the spreadsheet: https://skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?cid=a3660eed58d91ed9&resid=A3660EED58D91ED9!107&parid=root

Special thanks are extended to students in the Technology Management Course for their suggestions for improving the spreadsheet. As is always the case; simplicity should be the goal and they helped to achieve that goal.

[1] Goldilocks pricing is a rule of thumb that suggests that you should start out with three price levels and offer additional versions of products to attract additional revenue (Varian and Shapiro, Information Rules, Harvard Business School Press 1998). The idea behind Goldilocks pricing is that one product is too few, ten products too many and three is just the right amount. Thus one arrives at Hermes, Mass Appeal, and Midas.


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What Would Midas, Atlas and Hermes do?

Figure 1: Midas, Atlas and Hermes

In their book on developing creative approaches for solving problems Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayers describe the “What Would Croesus Do?” approach [1]. The gist of the approach is to consider how a consumer would solve a problem when she has unlimited resources.  Need tech support, have the tech sit outside your office and enter when called.  Bored, become a cosmonaut. This approach can help to identify products and services for the high-end where the consumer is not price-sensitive and is interested in many different features (see Figure 1). We have renamed Croesus to Midas products because it is easier to remember and because it imparts a very colorful and explicit image of high-end features. Midas products and service are designed for consumers that are not price-sensitive and demand high-end features. Products that are designed with high-end features for individual’s that are affluent or for individuals that are simply interested in high-end products are designed using extravagant engineering. Extravagant engineering is less concerned with costs and more concerned with using new technology and concepts to develop innovative and perhaps even radical products and services.  In general, products and services that are extravagantly engineered contain advanced features and attributes.

There is another part of the demand curve where the consumers are price-sensitive.  This could include students, seniors, and in general individuals with low levels of discretionary income or individuals that are value conscious [2]. In designing products and services for this group you can use the “What would Hermes Do?” approach. Hermes was the god of the traveler, the shepherd, the athlete, the merchants, the cunning, and was linked to invention and commerce. We are now designating Hermes as the patron for the part of the demand curve that does not have a patron. Hermes products and service are designed for consumers that are price-sensitive and demand features that are functional for the task at hand. Hermes products and services are still functional, but they have reduced and scaled-back features. There are a variety of very interesting products and services that have been developed for Hermes customers occupying the price-sensitive end of the demand curve. An important reason for offering Hermes products and services is to acquire customers that might eventually become Midas consumers. For example, students become less-price sensitive as they enter the work force and generate more discretionary income. Consumer’s tastes can also change as they become more familiar with a product line or because they get caught up in the hype around fashionable product. Designing Hermes products requires skills in frugal engineering.

Midas and Hermes product have an important role in developing new ideas for product and services for the middle of the demand curve. Midas gives product developers the license to create ideas that are unique and perhaps superfluous.  Hermes products and services establish a minimal baseline for a product or service with the additional prompting of being inexpensive to produce. Hermes products should be less expensive to produce because they are used to attract price-sensitive customers.

From the producer’s perspective, the idea is to get the creative juices flowing and use the top and bottom of the demand curve to generate new ideas for products and services by drawing on both extravagant and frugal engineering approaches to develop Atlas products.  The mass appeal or mainstream products in the middle are called Atlas products. Atlas was a Greek mythological figure that supported the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Atlas products support the broad-based customer segment in the middle that requires products that have standard features and also have slightly differentiated features to meet the demand of monopolistic competition.The result of this dynamic tension between frugal and extravagant engineering is the development of Atlas products and services[1]. Atlas products and services have attractive features and an attractive contribution margin. The result of this dynamic tension is a robust process for continually inventing and reinventing products and services to stave off the competition and establish a strong foundation for survival.


Here are some interesting “What Would Hermes Do” ideas:


[1]Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayers, Why Not?: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big And Small, Harvard Business Press; 1 edition (December 1, 2006), http://www.whynot.net/main/about_book.php. Also visit Wikipedia for a discussion of Croesus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croesus

[2]I realize that there are many patrons for this large segment of humanity. The goal is to have a question for the bottom of the pyramid. Please see C.K. Prahalad, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, Wharton School Publishing, 2005 and many others that have been committed to this group.

[3] Dynamic tension was an exercise approach developed by Charles Atlas, but it also works here.

Product Differentiation: Nokia versus Apple iPhone

Product Differentiation and Cell Phones

The most important activity in the history of human kind has been in the area of communications (see Figure 1). The desire to communicate has been the driving force behind many advances in modern technology; driving a variety of  substitute and complimentary products and services.  The wireless phone is the current battle ground for the universal communication device that will be used for talking, texting and tagging friends and colleagues, scheduling, listening to music, reading eBooks, and in location assistance. Nokia sells nearly 40% of all phones and Apple sells less than 1%[1]. Apple and Nokia’s strategies are distinctly different. Apple has gone after the cream and focused on the high-end and competes primarily in the Smartphone arena and is also beginning to compete with the $300 to $500 net-book laptops. Smartphone’s have applications such as scheduling, location assistance, email, and internet access.

Nokia is interested in the high-end Smartphone market, but they are also selling to the price-sensitive demographic and have an even bigger target in their sight. They want to become the biggest entertainment media network in the world[2]. They are going to accomplish this through R&D with 10 labs throughout the world and by pursuing a comprehensive differentiation strategy with phone prices ranging from $10 to $700 (see Figure 2). Nokia offers devices to satisfy every budget and they are trying to make their products and services indispensable. They currently roll-out around one million cell phones per day and have 1.1 billion users. They sell mobile devices to the hundreds of millions of price-sensitive cell phone users in India that cannot afford a data plan. For $1.30 per month rural users in India can receive information on weather, agriculture, education, and Bollywood.  But they are also going after the high-end market high bandwidth market and have developed Ovi, an iTunes type platform with a variety of downloadable Smartphone applications.

Apple has been making steady gains in the smartphone business. They have about 8% of the market and Nokia has about 43% of the market. Apple has been willing to offer a down-scaled version of the Ipod to the price sensitive masses with the Nano and Shuffle. I suspect that iPhone technology will also be adapted to the price-sensitive tail of the demand curve.


[1] Jill Greenberg,  “iPhone Envy? You must be jÖking”, Fast Company, September 2009. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/138/iphone-envy-you-must-be-joumlking.html

[2] ibid