This post is part of the Marketing White Belt series.

The old joke about quality goes something like this:

Choose any two.


You can have good and fast, but it won’t be cheap.
You can have cheap and fast, but it won’t be good.
You can have cheap and good, but it won’t be fast.

Want to do a back of the envelope competitive analysis? Look at your company through this lens to understand your vulnerabilities.

If you can’t deliver fast, cheap, or good, you’re pretty much dead meat and it’s time to polish the resume and get out as quickly as possible before the ship sinks beneath your feet. You don’t even need a strong competitor to lose – one mediocre competitor will eat your lunch.

If you can deliver on one of the three qualities, fast, cheap, or good, then you have at least some competitive advantage, but your competitors will be able to maneuver around you fairly easily. If you’re fast, but not cheap or good, a competitor doesn’t need to be as fast as you to beat you – they need to be reasonably fast and either cheap or good, and you’ll lose customers to them.

If you can deliver on two out of the three, you’ve made life difficult for your competitors. Chances are whatever axis is left of the three is difficult to compete on or is extremely expensive operationally to compete on. For example, most fast food restaurants can nail cheap and fast, but not good. To deliver good, you’d have to either innovate or cut one of the other two areas. Most companies that are competitive in the marketplace can deliver on two out of three qualities to hold a competitive edge.

If you’re one of the very, very rare companies that can miraculously deliver on all three qualities, you’re going to obliterate your competition. Google has gotten search to be fast, cheap, and good and as a result, it’s nearly impossible to compete with them in search. The more dominant you are, the more profit you have to dedicate to improving on any of the three qualities and solidify your market position. The only way you get dethroned is if the product sector changes entirely and you fail to adapt.

So, which qualities does your company possess? Which qualities do your competitors possess? How much danger are you in based on this simple but elegant test?

This post is part of the Marketing White Belt series.

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