South-Western - Management  
Back in the Box
Topic Strategy
Key Words Competitive advantage, core competencies, in or out of the box thinking
News Story

Companies often find themselves in search of a miracle cure—a speech or a consultant who can help them “get out of the box.” But according to Douglass Rushkoff, a professor of communications at New York University, what most really need is to get “back in the box.” According to Rushkoff, too many businesses have forgotten who they are and what they are known for. The fashionable desire to change the way things were done in the past has the unfortunate side effect of abandoning the true value they once offered to customers.

All companies need to identify what they do best and integrate their products, communications, and marketing efforts around this key competitive advantage. Many companies have outsourced, or abandoned their competitive advantages. For example, Dell computers built its business on its easy to assemble components and reassuring customer service from Texas. Now, it farms out its customer support to Bangalore, and its service is indistinguishable from any other computer company. It’s no wonder Dell is losing market share.

More important than any ad are the employees and users who promote the company’s product and who are proud to be a part of a great organization. When Paris Hilton promoted the Hardees Burger, the ad got a lot of attention but chain sales grew less than ever before. No one spent time improving the core product – the burger itself, and it was not worth the attention.

Companies that operate in the box treat their employees as people who like what they do and want to do it better. They would never outsource their key functions. These companies create incentives and reward innovation within their workforce. Their employees then communicate the brand’s special value to their customers.

Questions
1.

What is a “competitive advantage?” How can a company go about determining what its key competitive advantage is?

2.

The author of the article is against outsourcing a company’s key functions. What is the basis of his argument?

3.

The author of the article says that an ad campaign like Paris Hilton’s Hardees car wash ad has little value if the product is not worth promoting in the first place. Do you agree with his opinion? Or do you think that a great ad can make a lackluster product a star? Be prepared to discuss your viewpoint in class.

Source “Back in the Box,” Fast Company, November, 2005, page 37.
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