Why the Lake Wobegon Effect May Be Sinking YOUR Business and How to Prevent It

Lake Wobegon Effect in MarketingYes, you work DAMN HARD to grow your business. You’re committed. Focused. Hungry.

You’ve built a website, crafted marketing copy and even launched a brand-spanking-new Facebook page.

More importantly, you routinely evaluate your marketing strategy … scout the competition … strengthen your position in the marketplace … and hunt for any means to delight your customer.

But is any of this working? And, if so, to what extent?

Heck – are you even able to see things clearly?

You see, hands down your greatest challenge as a Main Street business owner is finding the ability to take a clear-eyed, objective look at your business and competitive environment. You must correctly assess your situation in order to improve it.

But frankly, it may be impossible to be clear-eyed and objective about ANYTHING that matters to you.

Here’s what I mean:

“Ask Americans ‘How similar are you to others?’ and on average they will answer ‘Not very.’ Ask the same question in reverse – ‘How similar are others to you?’ – and their judgement of similarity increases noticeably,” says Sheena Iyengar. “The two answers should be exactly the same because the questions are, in essence, identical, but we manage to delude ourselves, just as we all claim to be above average or wholly unsusceptible to social influence.”

Dr. Iyengar is describing what’s commonly known as the “Lake Wobegon Effect,” named after the fictional town created by storyteller and radio show host Garrison Keillor.

Lake Wobegon is a place where every citizen is dazzlingly intelligent, attractive and strong. In other words, artificially above average.

And here’s why this should matter to you: The Lake Wobegon Effect explains that you and I perceive our products and services to be more special, unique, and interesting than others perceive them to be.

We perceive our competition to be weaker …
We perceive our point of differentiation to be stronger …
And we perceive our ability to delight customers to be greater.

But, as we just learned from Dr. Iyengar, reality dictates otherwise. In other words, we’re not as good as we think we are.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not criticizing or questioning your ability to grow your business. I simply want to expose this blind spot simply because it knocks so many Main Street business owners smack-dab on their keister, and I don’t want YOU getting sucker-punched by it too.

So here’s one solution from Michele Miller, which I believe will help you see things more clearly: Create a board of “Customer Evangelists” for your business.

A board of Customer Evangelists is where you seek out 4-6 of your most loyal customers and meet with them twice a year to leverage their insights into what you’re doing right, and those areas you might want to improve. Always allow your evangelists the freedom to say what’s in their heart. Oh – and it helps to have “alligator skin” during this process. Remember, the truth often hurts.

Of course, another alternative is to hire a couple really smart marketing consultants. 😉

But no matter how you obtain the unvarnished truth about your business, just remember: how far you go and how fast you get there will largely be determined by your ability to accurately define your strengths, weaknesses, pitfalls and opportunities. (Just promise me you won’t interview and poll your family and friends. Although well-intentioned, they’ll likely tell you only what they THINK you want to hear.)

Best of luck!

P.S. If you enjoy reading WonderBranding, why not tell your friends and colleagues about us? Just send an email to everyone you know who runs a Main Street business … works in marketing … or writes copy – and invite them to visit our blog.

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3 Responses to “Why the Lake Wobegon Effect May Be Sinking YOUR Business and How to Prevent It”

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  1. Phil Wrzesinski says:

    Rick Segal gave a talk where he asked everyone to raise their hand if they offered lousy customer service – no one raised their hands.  He then asked us to raise our hand if we just didn’t have the right products – no one raised their hands.  Finally, he asked us to raise our hand if we just didn’t have competitive pricing – if we were gouging the heck out of our customers.  I raised my hand (and got a free book out of it:-).

    The point was that EVERY SINGLE STORE thinks they have Great Products, Great Prices, and Great Customer Service.  And the reality is that we have all had lousy customer service, problems finding the right products, and prices that made us scratch our heads – probably within the last two weeks.

    Although I like your idea of an evangelist board, I also agree with the idea that hiring a consultant if even for a one-time evaluation is a good idea, too.  A customer can only speak from her experience, but a great consultant can speak with the experience of hundreds of customers.

  2. Tom Wanek says:

    What a terrific story, Phil! Thanks for sharing.

    You put a fine point on the problem. I’m unsure if it’s simply we get too comfortable, overconfident, or both. Whatever the case, and no matter your solution, Main Street business owners DO need a method of a gaining an objective look at their company and market.

    This topic also reminds me of a quote from legendary ad executive, Bill Bernbach: “Never make good advertising for a bad product.”

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