Throughout my process in writing these Gold Posts, my intentions are to do two things.
The first is to help make you aware of patterns in the market, so that you can further understand which elements or anomolies are potentially driving the underlying success for products and brands.
The second is to help you build your perspective, or as Seth Godin would say, your “posture” for how you start to see the world and the products and ideas you produce. This happens through repetition and discussion about these ideas.
Step one in any growth process is awareness.
Step two is letting patterns and repetition give an osmosis-like transfer of perspective.
So I hope I can help you hone in your visions. Or… you can just have fun knowing about a few brands or bits of media others haven’t seen yet. That too.
On to today’s post.
Customer Adoption Patterns.
There’s a really simple idea that underlies a lot of what we’re discussing in The Gold List.
The idea that there are patterns to what we purchase and what we pay attention to.
We can use ourselves as an example. Have you recently become fond of a new genre of music, or tested out a new diet? Have you not given up on using Old Spice since you were a teen?
Some of our attention and buying patterns stay the same, and some change. But what drives this? Our patterns of attention and purchasing morph around an ever-chaning landscape of technology and culture. The changes occur due to cultural shifts, the introduction of new technologies, new methods for distribution, measures of quality, randomness, social pressures, and many other factors.
You could picture a buyer as a boat in the sea. There are many factors that can influence this boat heading to a particular destination. For example the current of technology might pull the boat one way. But then the wind of culture might pull it a different way. Smooth seas, or efficient means of distribution, produce smooth sailing. Highly complex and difficult to understand products have friction and choppy waves.
Then there are means of Distribution. Which is like the engine for an idea being grabbed onto. It’s not just the case that what get’s popular is always what is best, what get’s popular is what get’s spread.
The point is there are patterns to buying, and there are ever-changing factors that influence these patterns. Google, Twitter, Instagram Live and Skype have all completely accelerated idea-distribution into an unthinkable speed. A catchphrase like “Damn Daniel” can be heard in cities across the U.S., which is driven by Snapchat but ALSO driven by cultural norms, social pressures, and perhaps randomness.
All of these factors contribute to what we pay attention to and what we buy. So, you can see what it’s difficult to really get clarity on what’s really going on… You’ve got culture, technology, distribution, quality, and these are just some of the factors that create trends, successes, and failures in the market.
If we’re going to begin to see through all of that with some predictive power, and some awarness for how we can give our own ideas their best shot, we need to look at a series of shifts that build on one another.
So today we’re focusing on one factor in particular: An increase of choice.
Going back to our previous example, it might be the case that you purhcased Old Spice in the past, because there was a very limited amount of choice. It was them or the other brand.
But today, for almost every product possible, choice has increased dramatically. This idea is CENTRAL to today’s landscape of buying and attention.
I can think of three factors that have driven this massive, and I mean massive, explosion of choice.
The first is that much of our consumption can happen digitally,
whereas physical choice means that you need to live in the right neighborhood, digital choice means there are no limits to where you can purchase from.
This shift from physical goods to digital products (for example, Hardbound books to Ebooks) gave us an opportunity to remove shipping or in-person shopping from the equation.
The second is that our means of distribution globally have exploded thanks to better distribution from logistics, trucking, and soon from autonomous vehicles and drones. We’re simply just better at moving product.
The last is the increase of populations making goods, services and brands. There are just more people generally making more stuff. Small businesses and freelancers thrive in a market propped up by services that support them. This new ecosystem is self-perpetuating.
The joke here would be “We’re a startup that helps startups start startups.”
Let me be clear: The idea that we have a massive increase of choice alone has rocked the foundation for how we behave as consumers.
I’ll dive into how these shifts compound below.
Here’s how the factor of an increase in choice has shifted our consumption.
1. With increased choice, comes increased depth of selection.
Now we don’t just listen to the hits. We go back deep, and listen to the oldest, rarest cuts of an artist. This is the idea of the long tail, which states the the “hits” actually produce less revenue and views than the combination and sum total of all of the “misses” and rare finds.
“If the 20th- century entertainment industry was about hits, the 21st will be equally about misses.”
“Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching — a market response to inefficient distribution.” - Chris Anderson, The Long Tail
This is huge to understand. Not only do our consumption as a total lean heavier towards ideas and products that are not popular en masse. It’s also not the case that the factor that produced hits in the past was our personal preferences. Instead, what the long tail argues is that it was an inneficient means of distribtuion that created hits in the past.
Old Spice was a hit mostly because it was the only item on the shelf. This makes sense intuitively. If your grocery shelf originally had 80 different brands of deodorant, it is unlikely that Old Spice would have so much market share.
With efficient distribution and discovery of media (like what the internet brings), our consumption splinters into infinite niches. This makes it more difficult for the culture to sync up consistently, and creates new efficiency for building smaller communities and products.
Now, there are still markets where there are monopolies of sorts. In part because they are technically difficult to produce, and because they build moats through technology or distribtuion that generate a smaller selection of choice.
For example Smart Phones or Rocket Ships. We really don’t have that much choice as consumers in these markets.
The point is though, for markets like much of we discuss on the Gold List, which are more niche products and indie-brands gaining attention in smaller pockets, they face a massive amount of competition and choice.
Being a rapper or an author at one point in time was a fairly rare and scarce product to produce. At this point, though, there are a massive amount of options for consumers to choose from in these markets.
I’m particularly interested in who’s winning in markets similar to this for the purposes of this blog, as the sheer amount of work and barriers necessary for markets like space travel put them in the minority of ideas and brands in the world (even if their profits are the majority).
2. With increased choice, means an increase in research and curation/selection services.
We do research, check reviews, and have technology and friends do research for us. We need Yelp and Google to parse the massive amount of options we now have. While still constrained by physical limitations such as the restaurants around you, the digital landscape has infinite depth to explore. Referrals are at the heart of the spreading of ideas. Machines and human referrals are more necessary with more choice.
So with more choice comes more methods for selection. Which methods get picked and used are critical to what we find. This *does* still limit our options but much less so than without them.
3. Increased choice, aided by increased research, means an increase in individual, personalized consumption.
The more we personalize and choose our own selection and curation methods, the less “synced” up we are with the masses. No two Spotify histories look the same. 40 years ago, it was possible that there would be a heavy overlap on the types of albums one might own in a typical home.
Now we can all have custom scents, and be interested in rare indie movies that only few others across the globe have gotten into equally.
This choice has led to some difficulty and strain. We do find some stability and comfort in being able to discuss specific shows, music, or movies with anyone we might encounter. Of course there are matters, products and ideas that still rise to the top. But as Chris Anderson notes, the 21st century is about the “misses” — and when he says “misses” he means ideas that don’t go mass. We’re equally enamored, if not more so with these misses.
Volume of choice plays a critical role in our choosing.
And this is only going to continue to develop.