Dear CMO:

It has been said that the jackrabbit knows many things, while the hedgehog knows one thing — very well. Multi-tasking notwithstanding, recent news items seem to show the virtue of the hedgehog in newer light.

Sharper Image is declaring bankruptcy. I don’t follow Sharper Image anymore, as they never figured largely into any of my previous companies, but if put on the spot I’d guess that the leap from catalog retailer of “the best of everything” to a contract manufacturer of unbranded stuff didn’t work. They may say that the economy did them in, but I wouldn’t believe it.

GMAC lost $724 million last quarter, largely due to the housing market’s impact on its residential capital group. Many analysts have questioned exactly why GM is in the housing business in the first place. In retrospect, this is a very good question.

Against this backdrop, we see Starbucks shutting down for three hours for a mandatory training session on making better espresso. Not how to make better sandwiches, or pick better music for in-store ambiance, or how to configure a better wifi network. How to make better shots of espresso. The bullseye of what they do.

There are a few interesting angles to discuss here, so let’s bullet point them:

1. We will be unavailable to you, our customers, for three hours on a particular day because we are going to re-train ourselves, nationwide, on how to make our core product.
2. We are going to announce it to the world and make a PR event out of it.
3. We are doing it during business hours — not at night, or in off-peak hours.

In short, we are sharpening our saw right in plain site.

This is a perfect animation of exclusivity, in the language of the science of influence: we are differentiated, we are further differentiating, and we’re unavailable to you while we’re doing it.

Good work, Starbucks. And a cautionary tale on the other two vignettes, above.