Neil Tambe

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I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Definitions: What archetype of business are you?

First and foremost, I'm borrowing most (maybe more than "most") of this idea from a conversation I had with a good friend, Christopher Gong. [Update: Chris said a lot of the content of our conversation came from John Hagel's HBR article on "Unbundling the Corporation" so both deserve the credit here!].

Anyway, I see any business initiative (whether it's a company wholly or an initiative within a company) as one of three fundamental archetypes: infrastructure provision, destination products/services, or curators of a customer experience. These are all rough delineations as some products/services may bleed into different categories, depending on their context (e.g., in some cases infrastructure might be a destination product/service and vice versa) 

Here are the different categories:

Infrastructure Provision
These are products and services which allow other products and services - across industries and sectors - to be consumed more easily. These are the sorts of products and services that don't really have niche customer segments because they serve all sorts of other businesses serving customers, or, serve customers directly. For example, Amazon Web Services, Roads, Sheet Metal, and The App Store are all infrastructure because people can use these products/services like commodities and build other products, services, and experiences on top of them or using them. Infrastructure is used to consume or produce another product in a easier, better, or more efficient way.

Destination Products/Services
These are products and services which provide a distinct, specific value to a specific customer. It's probably a higher-margin offering which is not as readily transferrable across customer segments. These products/services use infrastructure, probably, to be created or used and are are a small part of a customer's overall experience doing some end-to-end activity. Markets for destination products/services are fragmented because offerings need to be highly customized to specific customer segments. These are something that a consumer actually consumes not something used to produce or consume another product, unlike infrastructure. The vast majority of products and services are this category, I think: heirloom tomatoes, tote bags, advanced pharmaceuticals, a restaurant, and Angry Birds.

Curators of Customer Experience
This group of products and services has recently emerged more prominently, I think. These are the services, people, and products which string together infrastructure and destination products/services to provide a seamless, delightful experience to a customer. They are the interfaces which combine products and services and think about how different things fit together. These could be everything from your tailor, or a retailer, to the designers who designed the MacBook Air I'm writing this post on. In a lot of cases, it's not a trivial exercise to package and weave stuff together...especially when there's an overwhelming amount of choice and it's unclear how different bundles of products and services provide the most value to a very unique customer. Examples here could be: a personal shopper, Amazon's recommendation service, a city planner, or match.com. There are a lot of digital examples here, but the curator need not be expressly digital. Also, people who are good at this could probably recommend other destination products, destination services, or infrastructure which is missing from a seamless customer experience (and that's powerful / interesting / cool).

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Anyway, these are just some basic definitions to be used in the next post (and in the future). Here's something important, though. If you're a business you better know which of these you are, which of these you can be, and which of these is the most valuable to a customer. If you don't, you'll probably not sell your product or service very well.

For what it's worth, these archetypes probably apply to other sectors (not the private sector), I just thought about this in the context of profit-making businesses for simplicity's sake.

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com