Attention to Detail == Differentiation strategy

Michael Porter has argued that you need differentiation as much as you need operating efficiency for a sustainable competitive advantage. Most companies get the latter; in fact incorrectly associate good strategy with having a cost advantage against competitors, only to their detriment. They ignore the value of doing things differently than their competition.

I've noticed many cases where the central idea cited as differentiation isn't "moat"-grade but yet the company enjoys the fruits of the strategy unimpeded. [I am using "moat" as Warren Buffet likes to use it to indicate the economic moat of a company, similar to moats in medieval fortresses that made it difficult to penetrate.] This is likely due to things like core competence and corporate DNA at play. I think attention to detail is one example of such an elusive competence.

Mark Cuban talks about an epiphany with newspapers asking for a payment via envelope several times a year, each time giving you an opportunity to rethink this relationship, when they could just go the Amazon route and have your credit card on file. This is an area where Amazon does most of the things you're supposed to to: have low prices, low COGs etc. but also does what few others grok i.e. systematically remove all barriers in the way from desire to purchase.

Having your card on file is just one piece of the puzzle; lots of other online merchants do that. Most don't; especially the brick and mortar ones, likely because it is hard to get that level of customer trust. But customers trust their utilities with their cards. Most newspapers are currently consumed by thinking of ways to achieve operating efficiency. It is thought to be their only chance of survival. By paying attention to detail, Amazon removes the systemic hurdles that exist for a shopper from desire to purchase. It does things that keep it from being thought of as just another store. Perhaps not for the sake of differentiation, but because this is the outcome of having focused thought on carving out a niche.

Another example I recently stumbled upon was how each of the three big search engine players position their advertising solutions. Search engines are "free parking" for the cash cow that is advertising, much like malls and fast food joints have free parking for shoppers. One assumes that search engine providers are highly incentivized to put on their best face for what's effectively their store front. Here's what you see when you search for "google advertising":
And here's the "yahoo advertising" page:
and here's the "microsoft advertising" page:
The last one can do with a little more attention to detail. For one, as a multisided market, it needs to do a better job delineating the entry portals for each of its customers: the publishers and the advertisers. For another, there's a lot going on in that page that has no correlation to happier user experience.