Why Your Business Must Forget 99% of the Population

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What's wrong with the picture: When most businesses start out, they're targeting the masses. In our industry, this happens to almost every so-called Web 2.0 company trying to profile their widgets on Techcrunch. The theme goes: "Oh-let's-get-on-Techcrunch. Yay we got a 5000% traffic increase." Five days later: "Splat. We suck. Why didn't they all stick around?"

Say NO! (to Selling Out to the Masses)

It's the Techcrunch-effect: you get an enormous amount of traffic to your site when you're profiled, but once those Techcrunch users leave your site for something new, what then? You'll have no loyal customers to sustain that traffic. Typical example: tceffect.gif Sing it with us now: "We will neeeever sell out to the maaaasses!" Here's what we recommend:
  1. Forget being famous overnight.

    Forget Techcrunch. Forget landing on the New York Times. Forget a CNBC exclusive. Instead, use your relative anonymity to gradually craft a kick-ass business. The masses aren't looking, so start cramming in experiments. If you fail, Jimbo-the-critic won't rag on your company to a million of his subscribers. Building an enduring business takes time, experimentation, and failing forward quickly. Look at MySpace's gradual ascent: graph.png The masses can't build your business overnight. What must you do then?
  2. Build a bad-ass loyal customer base.

    The loyal influential few. Nike targets elite athletes. Beanie babies targeted affluent suburban schoolchildren. Dell targeted powerful businesses. Apple targeted right-brain innovators. MySpace targeted underground rock bands. The super-loyal-as-can-be customers went out and marketed the businesses to the super-masses. When you have that going for you, you know you did something right -- and a side major benefit: you know you're ready for growing your customer base.
Here's our sweet lesson in history for you to take home, and school your competitors:
  1. The big fellas started small.

    Walmart took almost a decade before anybody on the other side of the state realized it existed. Nobody cared about Starbucks when it opened. HP started with no invention. Instead, these business built gradual wins with a small influential customer base -- that later exploded to the masses.
  2. People follow the herd.

    We don't buy what's better. We buy what others buy. It's our psychological way of taking a shortcut, according to psychology guru Robert Cialdini. Why is this? Normally, we don't have all the facts of a product. For example, we usually don't know the ingenuity behind each product; the benefits of the technology used; or the features that might rock our world. When we lack sufficient information, we take the usual shortcut: buy what others are buying. Case in point: Creative Technology built an MP3 player with more features, and offered it at a lesser price than the iPod. Why then does the iPod still rock the competition? It's because you, me, our mamas, our daddies' mamas, your neighbor's kid, his teacher and her husband all have iPods. If "everyone" has it -- to us humans, that must mean it's good.
  3. The influential few determine your business's success.

    Imagine Apple building a stream of boring computers that targeted the mass-market. What will happen? Their core customers will revolt. They'll influence their personal networks to start a crusade against the Cupertino company for selling out. Instead, Apple does what it's been always doing: influencing a core group of innovators -- who then start a crusade to attract more.
The moral: Forget the 99%. Focus on the 1%. They'll have a better time attracting the masses than you ever will. A sweet-lookin-ill-chillin' template for ya:

I will cater my entire business to this targeted influential market: __________________. Let's get rolling.

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Posted on July 22

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