You do not have to be loved by everybody – a great value proposition

Most people want to be liked or even be loved. But a good value proposition for a firm should not attract everybody but only the ones you intend. And that means that a lot of people might even hate you.

Take the latest controversy about Abercrombie & Fitch, an American retailer for casual wear. See here (forbes.com), here (Los Angeles Times) or here (Daily Mail, UK).

Abercrombie & Fitch offers no women’s XL or XXL because they don’t want big women to wear their brand. Their value proposition is clear: They want the cool kids as customers. They do not consider big women as cool.

Mike Jeffries is the man behind A&F. In an interview with Salon Magazine in 2006 he told, when asked about the emotional experience in his shops:

“It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”

That is the reason why they offer nothing for big ladies. That is their choice. They discriminate big ladies, but you as customers have the choice as well. You are not forced to buy at A&F. I do not buy at A&F because I do like their attitude. However, they have a value proposition that is clearly distinguished from their competitors. And that is what I like and adore. They stick to their mantra even under severe pressure from the public.

Take other firms, Apple or Zara. They also discriminate. Apple’s Operating System is a closed system and either you take or leave it. At Zara, you also have no extra large sizes.

H&M, Dove: The opposite can be right as well

Interestingly, other firms like H&M or Dove have a different approach to big or natural ladies. H&M offers a H&M+ collection for larger women.

H&M uses for the photo shooting a plus-sized model. Dove created a different mantra for women: “You are more beautiful than you think!”. The video was watched 53 million (May 15, 2013) times on YouTube. Dove fosters the self-esteem of the ladies.

What is great about all three firms is that they have a clear value position people talk about. A&F has a controversial value proposition. But at least, they have one. H&M and Dove is doing the opposite. And that works as well. What does not work is to have a fuzzy and boring value proposition where you want to be everything to everybody.

A great business model is also about what you do not do

A great business model is all about what you do and what you do not do. The negative definition of what you do not do must be part of any clear value position. Who are not your customers? And with the exclusion you decide not to be loved by everybody. This is fine, and actually, good, because then you have at least a clear cut position in the market.

The curse of size

The more a firm wants to grow, the more it has to compromise its value proposition. If you focus on all customer segments, you have no focus. That is the curse of large firms. The larger you get, the more difficult it is to stick to your position. Sometimes, it works like with IKEA, but often it does not work.

The curse of being well liked

Think about Willy Loman, the salesman in “Death of a salesman”. He always wants to be well liked by everybody. The bitter end is his funeral. Instead of being “massive” with people coming from other states, his funeral is his final humiliation since nobody shows up except for the family.

Think about bankrupt companies. How many did weep when Karstadt went bankrupt or when Quelle disappeared from the market? Few, but of course the employees as a kind of family. However, if customers do not care, then you have no right to be as a company. And they care if you have something special to say. 


  1. Although politically incorrect for many, A&F are doing a good job at something that’s hard for most brands i.e. making choices about who’s their target segment and then executing consistently and relentlessly on the back of that decision.

    Not going after “everyone” takes balls. Why? Because making choices is scary.

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