We all know basic laws of demand and supply. That’s how the market works, and we’ve accepted its logic long ago. But if this is the only reasonable, rational way for it to work, how come we occasionally have truly revolutionary products that are an instant success? After all, there are plenty of examples when consumers had zero idea they needed a certain product (like an iPhone, for instance) — not until the manufacturer graciously supplied the market with it. So, which is better — follow demand/supply rules or go with your gut and be creative?
As a blogger, I’ve seen a bunch of articles on how to monitor audience's demand and provide the ‘right’ writing supply. To put it simply, established bloggers urge new writers to keep an eye on the trends and adjust their blog posts according to trend analytics. These posts got me thinking about other industries — because you can find more or less the same advice in ALL other business spheres.
And that makes sense… kind of. Sure, if a writer or a business owner wants to boost his blog traffic (and monetize his product/services), he has to give readers what they want. But let's take just one step further — if all bloggers follow this tip as a rule of thumb, what will the world get as a result? Pretty much what we already have now — hundreds of almost identical articles slobbering over the same topics. Overspamned Internet with goldfish user attention span. More identical competition and even shorter (ever decreasing, really) reader retention. Seems like a wild goose chase for marketers, does it not?
Well, this might be just about time to put an end to that. And I am not the only 'anarchist' in this world who feels the same way. How about I back my point up with some hard proof scientific data? Neuroscience, to be precise.
What people think they like and what people really like
Heard of neuro-marketing before? If so, you should already be familiar with Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. If not, here’s the main takeaway: Lindstrom and his researcher team used brain scans to analyze how people react to marketing and advertising efforts. The results of their experiments were shocking, to say the least. Among other things, brain scans proved that scary, demotivating pictures on cigarette packs, in fact, make people want to smoke more; the researcher team also discovered that product placement and appeal to sex in ads do not sell as much as marketers believe them to; but, the experiment I would like to pay your attention to is mostly about what people think (and admit) they like and what people really like.
As you know, a lot of marketers still rely on questionaries these days. The results of these questionnaires are used to predict the success of a new product. Lindstrom and his team decided to test this approach, too. Two groups of people were shown several TV shows, including Quizmania, an already proven success. The participants, however, have all been watching the shows for the first time.
After, they were asked to fill in the questionnaires, describing the chances that they might ever watch one of those shows again. And, of course, the team took actual brain scans while the subjects were watching.
The result? The show that got the least points on a questionnaire was the show that triggered the most brain activity while watching. And it wasn’t the ‘I hate it’ activity. It was the ‘I like it’ activity. More than that, it was Quizmania — an already proven success — that was tagged as ‘the least interesting’ show in all of the questionnaires. None of the participants said they’d watch it again.
Bottom line, if marketers relied on the results of the questionnaires only (that is, on what consumers think they like), it would be wise to send Quizmania straight into the trashcan— except, that would be a huge mistake because the reality has proven all questionnaires wrong.
How it works in the consumer sphere
Think it will not work with your customers? Do you really believe no one will read your articles (explore your products, services — whatever, the principle applies to all entrepreneurs) simply because people think they need something else? Ok, then explain Ford phenomenon. Henry Ford, the first industrialist to ever start mass producing cars, had only ONE model in his assembly line. More than that… remember his famous comment on consumer choice? 'Any color, so long as it’s black.' And I bet people would prefer to have some other color options — even back in the day.
I’d add “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” here, but according to Harvard Business Review, Ford never actually said that. But that’s not the point. The point is, Ford’s philosophy was in line with this phrase — and right now, it doesn’t really matter if some witty journalist came up with the exact expression. The word is out.
Where am I getting with this? You call the shots, not the crowd. You are the creator, and you are the one responsible for how your product/service works. People don’t know what they want to consume. If they did, they’d create it themselves. But since the market left the actual production to you, you should be the one pulling strings, not them.
Safe path is never efficient: the majority is always wrong
In business — and in marketing — it is a common practice to choose proven, safe paths over daring, unexplored solutions. This concept has been brilliantly challenged by Paul Rulkens — high-performance expert, internationally published author, and professional speaker — in his Tedx speech “The majority is always wrong”. Watch it when you have 11 minutes — the video is well worth it.
In his speech, Rulkens points out that
we tend to think inside a box (that is, within defined boundaries), but we have little idea of how small that box really is. In business, these boundaries are called industry norms, industry standards. But ‘norm’ is a shortened form of ‘normal,’ so by thinking inside the box, you can only get 'normal’ results.
See where Paul is going with that — so politely? Mediocre is the best you can hope for when staying in the box. And that’s if you’re lucky. Further on, Rulkens stresses that
innovation happens outside this little box. By understanding that the majority is always wrong when it comes to high performance, you finally get a chance to break industry standards and achieve amazing results.
Rulkens wraps up by saying that
3% of people can achieve extraordinary results. You can be either one of those 3% or end up in 97% of people working for the 3%.
Think 3% is too few and you’re probably not that special? Out of 7.5 billion people (as of 2017), that’s roughly 225 million people. 225 MILLION people CAN think outside the box when they want to! And, just in case you think that the competition might be getting too steep again, remember that two people thinking outside the box will not come up with the same ideas. That’s the beauty of stepping over the boundaries.
Need more convincing? Take Steve Jobs (no matter how trite the example is today). Personal computer in the 1970s. White earphones when ALL others produced black ones. Crazy, right? Unmarketable!
Bottom line, it’s amusing how established bloggers suggest beginners should find their voice, but no one urges people to explore their thoughts. A freaking parrot can find its voice; what a person should be looking for are unique ideas.
To wrap up, I'd like to emphasize the whole seriousness of this situation. Today, we observe a society that praises diversity but consists of uniformed robots, barely distinguishable from one another. An age filled with books, movies, and songs that all seem the same. A bunch of performers whose names and faces people cannot memorize. A world where so few people stand out, and even when they do, the society kindly supplies them with a uniform — "go on, wear it, it's the path to success!" Aren't you already sick and tired of it?