The Unicorn Dilemma

You’ve probably heard something similar to this: “Quality, Speed, Price: Pick Two.” I like to call it Pace, Price, & Polish, because I have a serious thing for alliteration.

If you haven’t heard of it, it boils down to this: everybody wants the best price, the highest quality, and they want it immediately. I call the convergence of all three categories of value “The Unicorn”.

When it comes to service-based industries like ours, it’s extremely difficult to provide all three of those categories, because something’s gotta give. A full-service mechanic shop costs a lot more, but they also have the proper equipment in-house to rebuild your transmission correctly using best practices and often have the infrastructure and partnerships in place to offer a pretty solid warranty as well. Most people would understand that the shop has to cover their overhead for the lease on their shop, the salaries for their employees, and the constant costs of maintaining comprehensive equipment, among other things. To secure that peace of mind that things are done right, many are willing to pay the higher price tag.

The customer has other options, too. They can take it to a friend of a friend who fixes vehicles in his garage on the side. His overhead is pretty well non-existent, so he charges way less. WAY less. But he works on it on evenings and weekends, and because he doesn’t have the machinery that is built to execute specific tasks the most efficient way, the consumer is running the risk that the repair will be done “as good as possible” with no definitive pickup time.

Both of these are valid options, but they both offer value in different ways. The first option provides definitive quality and professional prioritization, while the second option delivers solely on affordability.

Have your meal and eat it too?

Now, let’s expand on the concept more and use everybody’s favourite service industry as an example: restaurants. I’ll note that this may break down a little for individual readers as I’m going to use franchises in my example and everybody has a different experience at their local haunt, so my samples will be based on my own experiences.

There are seven segments that a business’ primary delivery of value can be placed into:

  1. Price
  2. Price + Pace
  3. Pace
  4. Pace + Polish
  5. Polish
  6. Polish + Price
  7. “The Unicorn”

Here is how I have experienced value from the following seven restaurants.

Price – Dairy Queen: At my local DQ, the place is staffed by about three teenagers, and it is always teeming with dozens of silver-haired folks. Do I get value? Sure, but I know that the value is going to be based on quantity alone: I’m going to pay six bucks and get fries, a mediocre burger, a sugary drink and a sundae. And I know I’m going to wait 10 minutes at that understaffed drive-thru window every single time. They compete on price valuation for me.

Price + Pace – McDonald’s: It doesn’t matter which location I visit. I know I’m always going to get food for under five bucks, and I know that when I turn off to head into the drive-thru, I will be back on the road with that food in my hand in five to ten minutes. I don’t expect a gourmet burger, and I know what I’m in for, but that value is based on my desire to eat RIGHT NOW and not pay through the nose for it.

Pace – Starbucks: By now you’ve noticed that I prefer to order food without exiting my vehicle. Some days my kids let me sleep longer than I should have, and I have to get coffee on the way to work. I know that I can get my seven dollar venti double shot mocha with extra sprinkles in no time at all, and because I don’t go to Starbucks unless I’m in a hurry, I’m usually price insensitive to a drink that costs more than an entire meal with dessert at DQ.

Pace + Polish – Fatburger: Have you tried Fatburger? You order at the til, but the burger is superior to every other order-at-the-til-burger joint. The price is also superior, in the size sense. Every order short of an inferior child sized offering will run you in the double digits. And that’s ok, because you’ll get a premium quality sandwich to sink your teeth into, and you’ll have it in a few minutes. They are delightful, but I’m not price insensitive to them because when it comes to burgers I’m not picky. At all.

Polish – Olive Garden: Dang. That place is solid. Sure, it’s not the fancy five-star french joint for foodies, but I’m going with common franchises here. At Olive Garden, I understand that I’m going to leave with a lighter wallet and that I’m also going to be engaging in conversation with my dining companions for some time before my meal arrives, but that’s not what I value it for. My expectation is that I’m going to have a high-quality experience, with decent wine recommendations, and a delicious mouth-watering entree. And it has always delivered for me.

Polish + Price – Red Robin’s: I took my family to Red Robin’s the other night for my daughter’s birthday. I got a burger that is, in my opinion, superior to Fatburger, and it cost the same amount, including bottomless fries. Damn, that’s a good deal! They have an excellent system to distract you there, where the server is constantly coming around to check in and bring you stuff, even if it isn’t your meal. I think I waited 25 minutes or more before my meal arrived, but I felt attended to. The price was reasonable, but the experience and food was a quality that surpassed the price. THAT, right there, is value.

The Unicorn – In-N-Out Burger: I’m not from California. But my experience there made me question everything I’ve ever said about “the Unicorn”. I called it the Unicorn because it didn’t exist. But having experienced value in price, pace, and polish, all surpassing my expectations, at this practised purveyor of perfect patties, I had to admit that there may just be fringe cases where Unicorns could exist.


So. Is there a unicorn in the creative industry?

In short, yes. Is Loomo one of them? No.

We typically vary between Price + Polish and Pace + Polish, depending on the client and their individual needs. Service is important to us, and we try to really listen so that we can deliver a custom experience for each of our clients; we do this as we have never found a cookie cutter solution that is better than one based on sound strategy. We aren’t willing to sacrifice quality because, in a year, people won’t remember a slower delivery if it was within the realm of reason. Likewise, they won’t care about a higher price tag because they will have experienced great value, and assess that fairly in retrospect. A year from now, shoddy work will still be shoddy.

In fact, on more than one occasion we have been called in to clean up after marketers or agencies that delivered based on Price + Pace. Everybody is familiar with the line “You get what you pay for”, and yet we all try to trick ourselves that this won’t apply to us in this particular situation.

For one client, we tried to be a Unicorn for them, because we were genuinely excited to work with their brand. We bent over backwards to deliver world-class quality, gave them concessions on our pricing, shifted schedules to accommodate their last-minute demands, and put up with constant negativity just to help them promote their services.

That experience solidified for me that we aren’t a unicorn, and we simply can’t be. That just isn’t how we bring value. Our value is in providing a wide array of specialized brand management skillsets to medium-sized businesses who can’t afford a massive New York agency with ten times the overhead.

So what if you’re a little business or startup without capital to invest in an agency? Who can be a creative unicorn, then? If you want a creative artist or a digital marketing expert who can give you a low price, same-day turnarounds, and great work, then I can tell you this: they exist. And they are just as hard to find as In-N-Out is to a Canadian. They are rare freelancers, and if you get really fortunate, you may be able to find the right one at the right time. Here’s an example of a unicorn, the “Undiscovered Talent”:

PACE – Because this unicorn is undiscovered, they may not have a full schedule yet, and you may be easy for them to prioritize.

PRICE – If they don’t have a full schedule, it means they don’t charge you extra to make you a priority, and lack of overhead means you may get a cheaper rate as well.

POLISH – This is right there in the name of this Unicorn, but the only way you’ll get polish in addition to those other two categories is if they are truly, truly talented.

Here is another major consideration: there is no such thing as a “Master of all trades”, so if you need multiple diverse marketing and creative skillsets (copywriting, graphic design, marketing strategy etc.) then you need to find multiple unicorns who are each amazing at their specific skillset and hire them immediately.

That’s what we did; you can check out their Loomonaut IDs here.

We are Loomo Marketing

Loomo is a full-service branding, creative design, and marketing agency with offices in Vancouver and Victoria, BC. We are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to see your business grow. 

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