Every month, former Five Guys operations and development director Marcel Khan reads a book (so you don’t have to) and applies insight to the sector based on what he’s learned between the covers and beyond. This month: Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

This month’s novel idea is differentiation.

Published in in 2005, by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Blue Ocean Strategy provides relevant insight for our industry, particularly if we apply their strategy to our behaviour rather than solely focusing on our product development.

The authors based the book on a study of 150 strategic tactics spanning over one hundred years and thirty industries. They argue that companies can succeed by creating ‘blue oceans’ of uncontested market space, as opposed to ‘red oceans’ where competitors fight for dominance. The analogy being that an ocean full of vicious competition turns red with blood.

The pair conclude that by focusing on differentiation, these moves create a leap in value for the company, its customers and their employees by unlocking new demand and making the competition irrelevant. The book makes all the right arguments: stand out, be different and you create reasons for both customers and crew alike to flock your way as opposed to restaurant Y or hotel X. Be different, and win.

Brand differentiation through product design is a common marketing topic. But what if we apply these learnings to our operations and our behaviour?

“While good strategy content is based on a compelling value proposition for buyers with a robust profit proposition for the organisation, sustainable strategy execution is based largely on a motivating-people proposition.” – W. Chan Kim.

There are many brands within the food and beverage sector using behaviour differentiation to the benefit of their shareholders. The key to their success? Virtuosity.

Pizza Pilgrims are sincere about curiosity. The founding brothers James and Thom Elliot are curious, good-natured and humble about food. In setting up Pizza Pilgrims they used these qualities as building blocks for their business plan.

How? They were curious about how to make the best possible pizza. They were humble enough to start from scratch and embarked on a ‘pilgrimage’ to pizza holy land Italy to learn about ingredients, equipment and recipes. They were then savvy enough to capture this journey and turn it into their pitch deck.

It is this sincerity that allows them to deliver some of the UK’s best pizza. They remain curious, humble and good-natured which has prompted them to deliver continuous improvements and maintain their position in the market, and always want to be better tomorrow than they are today. I have no doubt they’ll succeed in not only remaining better, but also remaining nicer than most.

Flat Iron – generosity, simplicity and passion. Charlie Carroll’s Flat Iron uses “less well-known, rather than worse” beef or famous and costlier cuts. Its simple menu, fantastic quality and cost effective sourcing combines with unbridled passion for great steaks and enables the company to be super generous all day, every day.

Flat Iron is rewarded by queues every day and every evening. Their response? Be even more generous. On my last visit to their Covent Garden branch every single customer was offered a ‘parting gift’ of a delicious salted caramel ice cream cone, complete with fresh chocolate shavings. It was hot that day in London. My wife and I, and every other customer left Flat Iron completely blown away by both core offer and that little bit extra. Oh, and told all our friends.

Itsu – pioneering spirit. Itsu set out to create healthy and delicious Asian inspired food. Sustainability is also a core tenet of the business. For them, food waste is a key concern. Their solution? Offer food at half price in the last half hour of the trading day. The idea was scoffed at by many industry professionals, who contested that Itsu was devaluing its offer.

Instead, not only did Itsu resolve food waste issues, but the move actually drove consumer behaviour to utilise the brand further and further into the evening hours. Capitalising on different day parts had also been an issue. Both problems solved by daring to think differently. Simply inspirational behaviour.

I have seen behaviour shape success at Five Guys. The Murrells are genuine and the chains’ success is in no small part a reflection of its founding family’s total authenticity. Their behaviour provided a platform that made driving genuine service as competitive advantage the most natural thing in the world. The results were top ranking for service in the UK, according to Market Force’s studies of 2016, 2017 and 2018.

My question for businesses is this: what are the characteristics, behaviours and qualities that differentiate you from other businesses? And have you thought about leveraging these in ways that create a ‘blue ocean’ for your business? Hopefully that gives you some food for thought.

Marcel Khan spent six years as operations and brand development director at Five Guys, and before that he was regional MD for Nando’s UK for almost a decade