How are your POPS and PODS doing?


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More than a decade ago marketing professors Kevin Keller and Alice Tybout advanced two concepts that not only changed the way people market their businesses but also SHOULD have changed the way we think about delivering customer experiences.

They are POPS and PODS. POPS stands for “Points of Parity” and PODS is an acronym for “Points of Distinction”.

In simplest terms, Points of Parity (POPS) are qualities that you share with competitive brands deemed to be excellent. These POPS won’t win you business but the absence of points of parity could cause you to see customer churn. In gambling parlance, POPS are important competitive “table stakes” if you want to sit at the higher stakes/higher reward tables.

By contrast, Points of Distinction (PODS) are attributes, behaviors, or qualities that make you stand out from your competitive set. In essence, they are the things you and your customers call your own. I refer to these brand characteristics as the “SO Factor.” If a business were to demonstrate an extraordinary willingness to accept returns, for example, someone might say that is SO Nordstrom. Nordstrom established almost legendary return policies as a POD.

While marketers like to call attention to aspects of a brand that they want to cement as PODS in the minds of prospects and customers, experience designers like me and business leaders like you should be thinking about DELIVERING PODS – behaving in ways that are relevant, different and valued by your customers.

Brand behaviors that serve as Points of Distinction can be thought of as “signature moments” in a customer’s brand journey. For example, a client of mine, International Dairy Queen, has taken one of their meteoric products, a Blizzard®, and created a Point of Distinction (POD) in the relevant way they serve and engage customers. They flip the Blizzard!

Joseph Michelli - DQ with blizzard

By tipping the Blizzard upside down everytime a Dairy Queen team member hands it to a customer, Dairy Queen signals that that the customer is receiving a densely rich product filled with quality ingredients. Additionally, team members create a quick “moment of theater” at handoff. This behavior (which is now part of a “flip it or free” campaign) is SO Dairy Queen that anyone attempting to approximate it runs the risk of being seen as crossing into Dairy Queen territory. The same could be said about a business owned by a friend of mine, who kindly co-authored a book with me titled “When Fish Fly.” Johnny Yokoyama, the owner of the Pike Place Fish Market, created an engaging customer experience in Seattle where fish often literally fly through the air as part of the interactive play his fishmongers create for their customers. Throwing fish is SO Pike Place Fish Market!

So what are your points of distinction or signature moments? Of equal importance, what are those deficits you need to remedy to be at parity with the execution and excellence of your best competitors? Back to the title of this blog…how are your POPS and PODS doing?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


  1. Great piece, Joseph. You always provide a unique and distinctive perspective on how organizations can create memorable experiences for their customers. While, as you point out, the concept of POPS and PODS has been around, your introduction of SO (as in “that is SO Starbucks) is new. It signals a feature that makes it appear it is being copied rather than originated.

    I have been working with organizations around the concept of service souvenirs. No one left the circus as a child without a souvenir–some evidence that provided a reminder of a great experience. And, who can forget Cracker Jack’s financial worthless but emotionally priceless souvenir. Thanks for your contribution to furthering our understanding of great emotional connections with customers and their important impact on growth, reputation and the bottom line!


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