The Corner Lesson: Your Career and My Dad’s Sweet Corn

In the world of marketing, products are often classified by how potential buyers behave in terms of purchasing—including factors such as time and effort spent on comparing features of similar offerings (like price), the importance of brand name, image and status appeal, or substitutability of one brand or product type for another. Classifying a product is not an idle, academic exercise because how a company’s potential customers view its offerings will mandate such marketing strategies as distribution, pricing, packaging, product placement and so on. Product classification has lots to do with YOUR career advancement and growth.

Marketers generally classify products in one of four ways:
1. Convenience (this can include impulse and/or commodity)
2. Shopping
3. Specialty
4. Emergency or unsought goods

It’s summertime in Indiana. Let’s use sweet corn in the husk to illustrate each classification. How would you classify sweet corn in the husk? Well, if you are in your local Marsh store, have sweet corn on your shopping list, find a big pile on a table, and it looks decent, you probably find a plastic bag and stick the needed number of ears into it. Assuming the corn looks decent, you probably are not going to take the time or spend the gas money to go to Kroger’s or Meijer to see what their corn looks like and what their prices are. It’s just not worth it. Classification? Convenience good.

Some might also add commodity–you don’t think there is a substantial difference in corn at Marsh compared to corn at Kroger’s. Corn is corn. But what if you didn’t have corn on your list and your spouse calls you to say the corn at home (which you had planned for supper) looks bad? Pick up six ears while you’re in the store. Now this purchase makes corn an emergency good. You need it now and don’t have time or energy to go corn shopping.

Now assume you did not have sweet corn on your shopping list, but see that pile of corn and think, “Some fresh, sweet corn sure would taste good tonight.” You toss some ears in a bag and keep rolling. Again, you probably are not going to visit other stores. Now sweet corn becomes classified as an impulse convenience good.

Let’s now take a trip to one of the farmers markets around Indianapolis where there might be six or more farmers with big piles of corn on their stands or in the back of pick-up trucks. Whether you had corn on your shopping list or decided on the spur of the moment to get some, you have several buying action options to consider. Two assumptions you might make are that corn is corn (a commodity) and, since prices are posted publicly, they’re going to be about the same at all stands. You can just stop at the nearest stand and get your corn (convenience). Or you can visit every stand, checking the corn’s quality and price, trying to remember how Stand 1’s corn looked compared to Stand 4’s. After wandering around for 15 minutes, you go back to Stand 2 and get your corn. (For you, sweet corn is definitely a shopping good.)

Another option is to do what many people do, my wife and I included: Check the attractive website of My Dad’s Sweet Corn to see if they’ll be at the market we’re planning to go to. If so, go, park, head right for My Dad’s, and probably wait in line. In fact, my wife usually won’t go to a farmers market unless My Dad’s is going to be there. Why? In the several years since we discovered My Dad’s, we have NEVER had a bad ear and it’s at the top of the sweetness chart as far as we are concerned—they must fertilize with water with sugar. The ears are large, uniform and picked daily. You can’t pull down the tops of the ears to check on worms and freshness since their corn is already bagged by 6 or 12 ears, but not to worry. It’s never been bad. And instead of using plain brown or clear plastic bags, My Dad’s comes in a strong and colorful yellow or white plastic mesh bag with My Dad’s Sweet Corn printed boldly on it in red and green. You can spot it a mile off and you’ll see lots of people walking around with those bags…strolling mini-billboards.

Listed prices are above the other competitors, sometimes up to 20 percent more. But we feel the high quality is worth it and, often you will find an extra ear or two in the bag, so the price per ear becomes fairly comparable. How is My Dad’s product classified by us? You guessed it–specialty. My Dad’s Sweet Corn definitely has its act together and separates itself from other farmers’ offerings with a brand image of consistent and uniform high quality and colorful packaging.

Now what’s this got to do with your career? Plenty. To be subconsciously classified by your employer as a “convenience or commodity employee” is career death. You are seen as just another body and will be among the first to go in a downturn. You’re not offering your employer anything special. A better position is to be mentally classified as a “shopping good employee.” When cuts are coming, you are in the circle being considered for retention. When a choice project or opening comes along, you are among the employees considered for it. You are offering a bigger bag of assets to your employer.

The best position of all is to be the My Dad’s of your company: the specialty employee has so many skills and so much knowledge and experience, coupled with a winning personality, that the company knows it can’t lose you. So you get paid more, get choicer assignments and move ahead faster. Headhunters are making their pitches.

Of course, becoming and staying a specialty employee is easier said than done. You have to know what qualities your customers” (including your boss and your employer) most value….then acquire and consistently deliver them. This takes much time, much effort, probably some sacrifice, some risk-taking, usually a set-back or two, and, truthfully, a little luck….although luck is more often made than found.

Figure out how to be the My Dad’s Sweet Corn in your organization– then be it–and watch your career grow.

(Note: This was not a paid advertisement for My Dad’s.)

– Dr. Charles WaldoProfessor of Marketing
Dr. Waldo is a guest blogger for the AU MBA Program

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The AU MBA program is a traditional MBA program designed for the working professional. Classes meet in the evening and mostly one night each week. Most students complete the program in less than 23 months. The MBA program is offered on the Anderson campus and in several locations in the Indianapolis area. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) nationally accredits the Anderson University MBA program, and Anderson University is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Posted in Back to Class 2011, Guest Blogger

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