Some companies try to be all things to all people, and they often achieve mediocre performance (or much worse). Others have a clearly defined target market and make sound decisions about how they will stand our from the competition. They make tradeoffs - determining precisely what they will not do (that others in the market typically do). A few companies go so far as to clearly articulate the tradeoffs they are making, even in their marketing materials. Recently, we received a brochure in the mail from Viking. The pamphlet described their various cruise offerings. My wife and I have never been on a cruise, and we didn't have any prior knowledge about Viking. I was struck by one page in particular in the brochure though. It proclaimed, "What Viking Is Not: We do not try to be all things to all people. Instead, we focus on delivering meaningful experiences to you." As you can see below, the company then explained specifically what it did not provide or offer (making for a stark contrast with many other cruise companies).
Gene Sloan, who has written about cruising for more than 25 years, recently published a lengthy article about Viking. Sloan wrote (underlining is mine for emphasis),
There are some cruise lines that try to be all things to all people. Viking isn’t one of them. The upscale cruise brand has carved out a niche since its founding in 1997, catering specifically to a certain type of thoughtful, inquisitive, generally older traveler who is looking to explore the world and learn a thing or two along the way.
Most Viking customers are approaching their retirement years — or are already there — and they’re eager to finally see all the places they didn’t have time to visit when they were raising kids and establishing careers in their younger years. For this subset of travelers, Viking offers a wide range of both ocean and river cruise itineraries that have a heavy focus on the destinations visited. These aren’t cruises where it’s all about the ship.
Viking voyages bring a lot of extended stays in ports where passengers get more time to explore historical sites and experience the local culture than is typical on cruises. The line offers included-in-the-fare tours in every port, allowing every passenger on board to get a guided experience during stops without having to pay extra. (In general, Viking voyages are highly inclusive, in keeping with its “no nickel-and-diming” philosophy.) On board, Viking’s programming revolves heavily around what the line calls “cultural enrichment” — lectures by experts on topics related to the places its ships visit as well as cultural and culinary offerings that often have a local tie-in.
What Viking ships don’t offer is a lot of onboard amusements aimed at families and younger travelers. In fact, the line doesn’t even allow children under the age of 18 on its ships. It’s one of the only major cruise brands in the world with such a rule. Viking ships also don’t cater to the party crowd. If it’s a floating celebration that you’re looking for in a vacation, this isn’t the line for you. As Viking founder Torstein Hagen likes to say, a Viking cruise is the “thinking person’s cruise,” not the “drinking person’s cruise.”
Michael Porter wrote about the importance of making strategic tradeoffs many years ago. Many companies falter on this issue though. They want to have it all, and they are obsessed with top line growth. Moreover, they are afraid to so loudly and clearly proclaim to potential customers who they are AND who they are not. However, the lesson here is critically important. Exclaiming clearly who you are not will make you all the more attractive to the target market on which you have set your sights.