Here Comes The Weirdoes
On Page 16 of the business book, We Are All Weird, by one of the world's foremost authorities on business, marketing and leadership, Seth Godin (best-selling author of Purple Cow, Linchpin, The Dip and countless others), it becomes abundantly clear that the business world as we know it is gone. This manifesto about the end of the mass market illustrates a fundamental and massive change in business that we have yet to begin to truly understand. "In the lifetime of a typical thirty-year-old American," writes Godin in We Are All Weird, "she has seen the market share (the number of eyeballs watching) of the big three TV networks go from 90 percent to less than 30 percent. In one generation. Pop record sales have gone from a million copies a week to just 43,000 in twenty years. More choice, less mass. Combine the impact of infinite information creation combined with the dissolution of truly mass media. The overlapping influence of these two trends makes it easy to see that a foundational principle at the core of our culture has just disappeared. Boom, it's gone."
Did that get your attention?
It may seem trite or easy for someone like Seth Godin to say these things. Along with being one of the biggest business Bloggers in the world, most people know him as an author and a thinker (and people like that tend to speak their minds having never really done the physical labor of growing a company). When you scratch beneath that surface, what you uncover is a passionate entrepreneur who is walking the talk. Along with selling one of his first companies, Yoyodyne, to Yahoo! In 1998, he has since gone on to launch Squidoo (which is ranked among the top 125 sites in the US by Quantcast) to his latest venture, The Domino Project, a new type of book publishing company that is powered by Amazon. The Domino Project has released nearly ten books in its first year (all of them best-sellers) and, We Are All Weird (which came out a couple of weeks ago) is Seth Godin's second for his own imprint (the first was called, Poke The Box, and it came out this past March). The message? Business isn't just moving fast, it is completely re-defining itself. When we once counted on the masses to buy our products, the future is about the many unique individuals that we all are.
In short, we live in a world where white bread just doesn't cut it anymore.
"Most companies are organized for the wrong battle," said Godin via Skype last week when asked how the mass market can possibly fail when mass media is still both pervasive and consumed by such a large segment of our population? (you can head the full audio conversation between Godin and me right here: SPOS #273 - Seth Godin Is Weird). "The argument I'm making is that Procter & Gamble and other mass marketers that need masses of people to buy their stuff are going to feel more pain and more pain because they're organized for the wrong battle in today's world. They're organized for 1975, which was their last best hope of reaching everyone with average products. Whether it's McDonald's, Starbucks, the public school system or the symphony orchestra, what we're seeing is that all of them are wrestling with this notion that human beings are tired of having to fit in a box and - when given the choice - they take that choice. That key sentence is completely overlooked by the people who are making money by marketing to the masses. What I'm trying to make clear to them is that everyday, it's going to get harder and harder."
Weirdoes... meet The Long Tail.
The premise of We Are All Weird dovetails beautifully with what Chris Anderson (Wired Magazine's editor-in-chief) dubbed, The Long Tail, in his seminal book of the same name in 2006. The idea here is that the many choices we now have in market, and the ability for an online retailer to offer a unlimited array of choices (because they're no longer limited by the shelf-space in a physical store), we're able to uncover that one hundred smaller products may cumulatively sell more than a top ten product on its own.
You are weird.
"The 100,000 people who buy books from The Domino Project are weird edge cases," continues Godin from his office just outside of New York City. "They are people who spend money to think about culture in a different way. They tend to be those who then lead culture and they are predominantly unreachable by an ad in Time Magazine or an ad on American Idol. These edge cases are the ones who define our culture going forward and advertisers are now in this position of playing catch-up, because they're not reachable with mass media. Businesses now have to figure out ways to work with these individuals and create things that these individuals want if they're going to get any of this newly-scarce commodity known as attention."
These weirdoes are becoming more and more immune to traditional mass media advertising...
...and they're no longer interested in mediocre products made for mediocre thinkers. The true challenge of We Are All Weird lies in understanding the paradigm shift that every person working on a business must begin to think about. It's nearly impossible for a business not to think about how to reach the masses and this, according to Godin, is exactly what needs to happen. It's time for businesses to figure out how weird their customers truly are and how weird they are willing to be to not only reach this new consumer with their messages, but to help them connect and to become that much more loyal.
Who knew that weird was so wonderful?
The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
- Montreal Gazette - Consumers can't fit into a box.
- Vancouver Sun - not yet published.