Do One Thing Very Well

Beignets from Cafe Du Monde

During my most recent visit to New Orleans, Tom Martin took me to the Cafe Du Monde, a famous coffee place in the French Quarter. That little pastry and powdered sugar delicacy up there is called a beignet, and the Cafe Du Monde is famous for them. When you look at their little menu, though there are a few other things tucked on there, it’s pretty much all about beignets and coffee. In fact, I’m going to venture that ordering anything other than a beignet is a signal for surly bouncers to come out, brandishing butcher knives, and chase you out of the cafe.

Imagine you’re the owners. You’re making a reasonable revenue, but say you want to bump it up. Do you add things to the menu? Do you make a raspberry-filled beignet? Do you offer NEW! Beignet-minis! (exclamation points extra), or do you franchise out, and put your beignets at every gas station?

For whatever reason, it seems obvious when we use this example that one has to treat the brand carefully, that there are so many ways to hurt things on the way to expansion. But other times, with other products, we don’t tread as carefully. Why?

Not every brand has to be a sole product experience. We’re okay with Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, for instance. But for others, and I’d suggest Cafe Du Monde’s Beignets are in this category, sticking to a core product and experience is key.

How do you evaluate the products or services you offer? What makes you decide what to do with regards to your brands? And when you turn that lens on you, how do you fare? (My answer: not so well. I’m a jumble.)

What’s your take?

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  • http://moregspinsights.blogspot.com gspinsights

    Doing one thing well is fine if the demand for it is sustainable over time. I live in Montreal where there are businesses who only make Montreal bagels and one that only produces the smoked meat that Montreal is also famous for. These are appreciated by the locals and are also a tourist attraction. Do the New Orleans beignets fit into this category or are they a passing fad like the little shops selling cup cakes?
    Ultimately I think that being diversified ensures that a business is sustainable in the long run so long as there is compatibility between the products/services. For example, in the UK supermarkets started to get into financial services and all sorts of stuff that they did not have an expertise in – now Richard Branson can get away with that type of thing because he has a reputation for high standards but the average company struggles.
    So… a lengthy way of saying that I would only specialise if the income stream is sustainable, if not I would go for careful diversification. Personally I am so diversified in that on the one hand I am a business consultant and coach and on the other hand have a copywriting and translation business but ne'er the twain shall meet – different offerings and I never offer both to the same segment so as not to confuse them.

  • thesocial1

    Chris, it feels like you were in my head! I want to brand myself as a journalist, blogger and social media expert. I have finally put all of these things together in a way that makes sense, and have them working efficiently, now I have to focus on sticking to these three specialities.

  • stanphelps

    Chris,
    Beignets . . . my mouth is watering.
    They are the signature product for Cafe du Monde. It is part of the fabric of their brand. Mess with your signature and you create dissonance for your customers.
    Stick with what you do best and don't lose focus. One of the brands that gets this is Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Their menu is simple. One glaring omission is a milkshake. Founder Jerry Murrell bristles at the thought of a milkshake coming out of a machine. He says that until he can perfect how to serve the best milkshake, you won't see one at Five Guys. AMEN Jerry – keep serving those well done burgers, extra fries and free peanuts . . . the milkshake can wait.
    Best,
    Stan
    @9inchmarketing
    #PurpleGoldfishProject

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    It’s a good point, Eric.

    I think if you can focus on a central product and then develop ‘spokes’ off that wheel, they yes, you can capitalize on where you're strongest.

    For example, banks sell insurance, policies etc that compliment their existing product offerings.

    My concern is when companies like Sony, who specialize in digital products, suddenly move into the Entertainment business. I feel many of these moves are driven by the need to be seen ‘to be doing something’ rather than developing profitable complimentary offerings.

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    Hello Joseph,

    My understanding is that Amazon has already signed ‘exclusive’ deals with some major authors.

    Imagine what happens when the next Dan Brown novel is only available on Kindle.

    They have the traffic, platform and distribution model!

    Gov regulation may be their next problem.

  • http://twitter.com/pamperedpilot pamperedpilot

    Thanks for the timely thought Chris. I love Cafe Du Monde, the beignets, and the coffee! As a whole, it is heaven. Thank goodness I live too far away to visit regularly.

    My personal belief is that one should learn to do one thing really well, then grow from that experience. When one is a jack-of-all-trades, their customer base is actually comprised of multiple perceptions on what they offer, so how does one effectively market to the customers?

    As mentioned in the comments on this topic, Amazon is known for books, and has now expanded to one of the largest suppliers (rivers) of just about everything under the sun. A goal for Jeff Bezos, as he shared in recent NY Times Q&A. If you think about it, the original reason Amazon was born on books because they offered the largest selection…larger opportunity for product sales. While the gathering of consumers selling on Amazon has grown into something reminiscent of the Paris Flea Market, the introduction of the Kindle is actually a product that is aligned with the original goal of being the largest online bookseller on the planet.

    So, to sum it up, when you do one thing very well (Amazon delivering books), then any additional offerings may be seen as acceptable diversification, as long as the original quality of service or product offered is exceeding the customers expectations.

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  • wpstatic

    All I know is I want to eat them thar beignets

  • http://twitter.com/eggmarketing Susan Payton

    Chris–
    Funny, I was just at Cafe du Monde pointing out the same thing. They used to offer more types of coffee and other things but then someone new bought them and kept them in line with their core offering. Smart, I think. Plus turning a table over in 15 minutes bc all people can order is beignets and cafe au lait is smart money. Now I want a beignet. Thanks.

  • http://www.gossamar.com/ Eric Goldman

    Ivan;
    Interestingly enough, in the article I mentioned by Theodore Levitt, the Banks were another of his examples of an industry suffering from Marketing Myopia. He said they believed (and this remember was written in the 60s), that they were in the Banking Business, but in fact they were in the Financial Services business. It took the banks more than 20 years to understand what he meant – and then they all climbed onto the bandwagon and began offering additional financial services such as Insurance. Their core strength is handling money, so it does make sense to add on these types of services.

  • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

    Great post as always, Chris. Reminds me of a talk I heard on brand at the IABC Pacific Plains conference. The presenter discussed Excedrin, which in the mid 90's exploded as “the headache medicine”. Sales went up drastically.

    Then, some number crunchers and their agency decided that they needed to diversify the offering to make more profits. Soon came the launch of Excedrin Cold & Sinus, Excedrin Flu, and many other off shoots of “the headache medicine” that really had nothing to do with solving the issue the product had become know for.

    The result was that sales, across the board, went down. Lesson learned: If you find a niche and it works, stick with it and don't get to creative…

  • http://www.pamelabeaudet.com/ Pamela Sotir Beaudet

    Hi Chris-
    When I went to school in the 80's, I were encouraged to major in liberal arts and get a well-rounded education (translation: 'you should be a jack of all trades, master of none, and plan to work three jobs to make ends meet!'). I have worked very hard for many years to rectify that mistake.
    I am now a business coach. The big dilemma in my field is whether or not to carve out a niche. There is a lot of fear that comes with narrowing your expertise, but I know it's the right thing for me. Figure out one or two things that you do exceptionally well, and go for it.
    Build your brand. Establish a client base. Gain trust.

  • swag

    Sorry, Chris, but I have to call b.s. on this bit of nostalgic, dated folklore. Cafe Du Monde is a great longevity story. But I dare you to find a single author for the MIT Sloan Management Review that would approach them as a “success” story per se.

    The mom and pop business that stays afloat is a great bit of Americana. But the harsh reality is that none of us getting our jollies over social media are engaged with the mom & pops – but rather the multinational businesses out for growth at all costs.

    Starbucks is a great example of a company that grossly abused their brand by opening an armada of stores, hired lower and lower skilled employees, diminished the quality of their products, and diversified to the point of becoming just another fast food joint. But the facts are that they have made so many more people far more wealthy than Cafe Du Monde ever did. And we resent it, because in effect we have to sell out authenticity for growth.

  • http://maximumcustomerexperience.com/ Kelly

    Gee, Swag, if quantity of people made wealthy is your criterion for whether focus is a good business strategy, then maybe your criticism holds up.

    For most smaller businesses, though, quantity of joy served to raving fans, sustainable love of the work we do daily, and yes, staying afloat long-term, are pretty good measurements of success. For those folks, focus is crucial.

    Somehow I think Starbucks' near ruination in the last two years is actually proof that even for multinationals, a little “Do one thing very well” is a mighty fine strategy indeed.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  • mattwilson

    Once the brand has been established the occasional diversification to test the market should be monitored constantly. The Cafe Du Monde model works because somebody 100 years ago thought that fried dough with powdered sugar was good. Now it is an obligatory stop on any visit to New Orleans, They would do well to offer other coffee related treats to garner a larger market share. The fact that they are popular only in NOLA speaks volumns about the product. Their business model simply would not work in New York or California. Stick with your core copetancies but continue to diversify even if it means splitting the business to allow another success.

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    Hi Eric,

    <another of his examples of an industry suffering from Marketing Myopia.

    There’s a great little book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It was written in the 70s and is (still) gold dust. There is one chapter in there called Focus. Just brilliant!

  • http://twitter.com/johninorlando John Rogers

    Sounds like you've been reading Al Ries' book “Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It.” I love the idea of brands doing one thing exceptionally well and more or less ignoring the rest.

    What it really comes down to is owning one or two words in the mind of the consumer. Cafe du Monde owns “beignet.” Volvo owns safety. Kleenex owns tissue. Disney owns family entertainment.

    It's convergence vs. divergence. There are examples of convergence as a winning strategy (iPhone), but by and large divergence is almost always the way to go.

    In the social media realm it's the Twitter vs. Facebook analogy. Twitter does one thing, status updates, exceptionally well. While Facebook does about 25 things pretty good.

    But perhaps Facebook is shaping up to become the social web's version of the iPhone. Recent traffic reports certainly show no signs of slowing for them, while Twitter is starting to peak. I digress.

    Either way, like you, I'm still trying to figure out the one thing I do better than anyone else. Because people, like brands, must represent one word in the mind of their employer/audience/etc. Here's to finding that one word.

  • http://www.Tenbridge.com/ Phil McCusker

    I don't know if it's an either/or case. Zappos has some good talks on how they scaled their one-to-one customer satisfaction from zero to $1bn in revenues. Could they maintain that level to $10bn, $50bn? I don't know, but the point is that they are proving better service today now that they are bigger than they did in the past. If you listen to Tony, he says that the investments you make in culture aren't realised for 2 or 3 years down the line. I can't imagine most large companies can navigate the internal bureaucracies of trying to justify those costs. Its much easier for small / medium sized organisations to do so however if their management has the good foresight as Tony had.

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  • http://twitter.com/RossoRhizome Heather Rosso

    like the cafe du monde ref – love their beignets too! sometimes hard convincing others their 'side items' aren't going to make the menu shine. I work at a nonprofit. We have a few great products, and a few that might be best removed from the menu (but I understand the argument that some people *need* these less profitable items, and we do have a mission to serve). Those in charge of the 'side items' want results that match the feature menu item — looking at the cafe du monde example helps me have a picture to help describe the dilemma to them. Esp approp as we prepare to head to New Orleans for our next conference. But do you refocus and extend energy on the side items to bring them up to par (due to the org mission, they can't really be removed)? Or let them do what they can while emphasizing the feature item(s)? Does a social mission change the way we view our product(s), or is marketing by any other name still marketing?

  • http://www.tina-m.com/ Tina Mammoser

    OMG. Right when I need breakfast. :) oh the memories of Cafe du Monde…

    Everyone has said a lot of what I thought – simplicity of a great product being the main reaction. But you've once again hit me for a loop. Just as I was finally getting around to entertaining the idea of using my work on more 'product' (ie. reproductions prints perhaps, licensing images) you make me realise why I've resisted all these years. I have a product and it has a reputation for high quality and exclusivity. The potential for more outlets is a bit of a desperate move, rather than one that's being asked for. Doing 'other' might earn me a bit more. But few people have actually asked for that 'other', so will it just dilute my brand? (the handful of people who ask about prints each year generally just save up and come back later to buy a small original)

    Time to go think some more. There must be a happy medium. Fortunately taking time to consider keeps me on my track of just producing more and better work as the primary goal!

  • http://www.grtaylor2photo.com GRTaylor2

    Good point – I developed a photography blog that has morphed from articles about my photo shoots in my areas of expertise (Concert, Landscape, Portraiture) to more of an overview of photography issues and how to's.

    Is photography to broad a subject matter or should it be narrowed down? And do I changed the heading of the blog to reflect the recent articles?

    Thanks for your insight.

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  • http://marketinghitch.com Hitch

    @abradleyhole's comment gave me a chuckle. It's like the sideways glance we give wine drinkers in our local brew pub-who serve one of the best IPAs in the country: curiosity followed by sneer and finally crumpled brow (WTF) look.

    Brogan: Very good post and reminder for all of us: Keep it simple, stupid.

  • http://www.zoombits.de/speicherkarten cheap speicherkarte

    If he actually did even half of what he promises or has promised in the past, I might be able to work up a little enthusiasm. Unfortunately, when the best I can say is “better than McCain or Bush,” it does not generate excitement.

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  • Eric

    Hi.

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    Doing one thing well is fine if the demand for it is sustainable over time. I live in Montreal where there are businesses who only make Montreal bagels and one that only produces the smoked meat that Montreal is also famous for. These are appreciated by the locals and are also a tourist attraction. Do the New Orleans beignets fit into this category or are they a passing fad like the little shops selling cup cakes?
    Ultimately I think that being diversified ensures that a business is sustainable in the long run so long as there is compatibility between the products/services. For example, in the UK supermarkets started to get into financial services and all sorts of stuff that they did not have an expertise in – now Richard Branson can get away with that type of thing because he has a reputation for high standards but the average company struggles.
    So… a lengthy way of saying that I would only specialise if the income stream is sustainable, if not I would go for careful diversification. Personally I am so diversified in that on the one hand I am a business consultant and coach and on the other hand have a copywriting and translation business but ne'er the twain shall meet – different offerings and I never offer both to the same segment so as not to confuse them.

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