There's a fascinating post in the Harvard Management Review blog. It's entitled Developing Services Consumers Want, and it's a step-by-step guide to the major steps in determining if a service will succeed or fail in the marketplace. I think this is something a lot of law firms have yet to get right, A bakery in my neighborhood could teach them a lesson.
The place is called Vanilla Moon. They're located on Laurel Street, which is the main commercial street, the "downtown" of the town where I live. They're a bakery. And they sell, they specialize, in cupcakes.
The cupcake menu seems to change often (it's different every time I've walked by). I couldn't resist the gourmet Hostess style cupcake. It's served chilled which I'm not that thrilled with but it actually needs to be chilled. I didn't eat it right away so the white squiggle on top had melted and the frosting was also softer. The thick chocolate ganache frosting is rich and delicious and so is the moist, devil's food cake. I like how there isn't too much marshmallow filling. Lesson: You need to eat this one right away.
My God. This is a cupcake. It's a tiny little piece of cake that you pound down in about one minute. But this writer, and a lot of other ones, go into incredible detail about these little things. Obviously, the ladies at Vanilla Moon have really hit on something. They have come up with something people really want. If you're running a business, nothing else matters. In the case of cupcakes, I can think of three or four reasons why this concept is such a hit.
- As I previously observed, everyone loves cupcakes.
- My hometown, San Carlos, is filled with young families. Who have little children. Who have birthday parties. At which cupcakes are a huge hit. As a matter of fact, in a lot of preschools, cupcakes are what's allowed for birthdays -- no real cakes.
- Baking cupcakes at home is a pain in the neck.
- A cupcake is relatively cheap, is easy to eat, and is fast and basically neat.
Another retail business farther down on Laurel Street was the exact opposite. It was called, I think, Yoga Bleu, and it had something to do with both yoga and fancy water. Nobody wanted whatever it was that it was selling, and the store had a quick, merciful death.
The point of all this is that in launching a new practice, any kind of professional services firm has to carefully, painstakingly, determine:
- Exactly what they're offering.
- Whether there's any market for it.
It's astonishing how often firms just don't do this. Law firms, in particular, will spend enormous amounts of money launching a new practice without gaming through, carefully, exactly who the clientele will be, or why they will value this service. The million-and-one "green" law practices are examples of this. Nobody can even really define it. It's certainly not a field of law. It's, you know, green.
At the heart of any kind of good marketing or strategy there has to be a kernel of truth. This is otherwise known as integrity. Which means you have to work really hard to find out who your customers really are, and really want.
Like, say, cupcakes.