After 5 years for faithful service, our Swiffer wet mop finally gave out the other day and had to be replaced! Shopping for a replacement mop was revealing and served to illustrate how a differentiation advantage can be eroded or modified.
When Swiffer, a Proctor and Gamble brand, introduced their line of cleaning implements, they created a more effective alternative to the traditional dusters and mops. They also locked users in with a switching cost by requiring them to use Swiffer brand cleaning fluids and replacement pads. Backed up by the marketing might of Proctor and Gamble, Swiffer waged an aggressive marketing campaign and gained market share rapidly.
The inevitable happened – Swiffer’s success spawned imitators. The imitators undercut Swiffer in price and managed to erode its share. The main threat to Swiffer came, however, not from imitators, but from new product substitutes which severely undercut Swiffer’s differentiated value proposition and switching costs.
Enter alternatives to the Swiffer wet mop, such as the Vileda, which lowered users costs by allowing them to use cleaning solutions of their own choice and washable pads – thereby removing the switching costs erected by Swiffer. Needless to say, our Swiffer mop has now been replaced by a Vileda on which we can use any cleaning solution and avoid the cost of having to buy replacement pads.
Vileda (and similar offerings) have eroded Swiffer’s position by lowering consumers’ costs. For many consumers, this represents a new and more powerful value proposition than that offered by Swiffer.
The lesson: Swiffer originally created differentiated value but saw that value eroded by an even more powerful expression of value. No differentiated value last forever, especially when success and higher profitability attracts new entrants and imitators. The trick is not just to differentiate, but to keep on differentiating. Happy cleaning!