The title of the post, “Choose Your Axes”, might make you it’s a post about the currently-popular entertainment of axe-throwing. But this is not about throwing axes. It’s about something more dangerous.
The markets we participate in are usually defined by other competitors. But what if you could – or should – compete differently?
In his book This is Marketing, Seth Godin writes about the idea of choosing the axes (plural of axis) of differentiation. Here’s how it works, with Seth’s commentary in italics:
Pick two axes. One is arrayed horizontally (X) and one vertically (Y).
For each axis, choose something that people care about. It could be something like convenience, price, healthfulness, per‐ formance, popularity, skill level, or efficacy.
For example, there are six ways to get some diamonds across town. On one axis we have speed, and on the other we have security. It turns out that both an armored car and the postal service will happily insure a small envelope of diamonds, but one will take a long time and the other will take an after‐ noon.
If you don’t care about security, a bike messenger is even faster. And if you don’t care about speed or security, well, a stamp will work fine.
The magic of the XY positioning of extremes is that it clarifies that each option might be appropriate, depending on what you seek. Can you see how this chart would be totally different if the axes were changed to convenience, cost, environmental impact, or scalability?
The same approach can work for potato chips (expensive, lo‐ cal, air baked, flavored, extra thick, cheap, etc.) or for Walmart, Zales, and Tiffany (price, convenience, status, scarcity). Or a cruise ship and a private jet. Or perhaps a Ford, a Tesla, and a McLaren. We’re not so much interested in features as we are in the emotions that those features evoke.
Seth then challenges you to pick two axes for your market. Perhaps speed and security don’t make sense for your market, but maybe “magical” and “trustworthy” do make sense. The key is to ideate with your colleagues and to pick two axes that enable the market to view your service differently from the usual competitors.
Competition can be tough. At least you might decide how you’re going to compete, rather than following someone else’s playbook