I wish we were starting AND 1 today because the days of mass appeal are done. The path to a bigger audience is no longer watered down vision or white bread generic product. Today, you win by going deeper into your niche. You win by sparking the passion in your customer that motivates them to tell their friends about what you built – because they love exactly that thing you delivered.
At AND 1 we understood our niche and played to the passion of the ballplayer with attitude. We accepted the scale limitations of this approach and knew that trash talk was a point of market entry that would appeal to a portion of the basketball consumer. Eventually, we knew we would have to move beyond this niche and create more generic products that would appeal to the whole basketball market in order to keep growing. When we reached that point, we made $65 white and navy blue low tops. We sold them at big box retail. Old white guys with no game bought them and wore them to mow the lawn.
This was conventional wisdom. It was true then. Now, it is wrong.
Clay Shirky has a great quote about pizza production that illustrates this point. In small towns, you have to get your pizza by the whole pie, but in NYC you can get just about any kind of pizza by the slice. The chance that someone will walk by and want a slice before it gets cold rises as population density goes up — and in urban centers, like New York, it approaches certainty — even if you are selling barbeque chicken broccoli slices with anchovies, someone loves that and they will walk by and buy.
Social has increased the population density of the consumer web.
With a large enough audience, the probability of people wanting what you are selling, no matter how obscure or niche, rises to the point where your product/business is viable. The web has aggregated the audience and social has activated it. Everyone is here, connected through social platforms and engaged with people who share interests. Right now is the best time ever to do what you love…to pursue a passion…to deliver your vision of perfect to the world because if anyone shares your vision, they will find you, they will tell their friends, they will create a large audience of passionate consumers.
Consumers are moving into the tails of the normal curve — social web supports consumer spend in obscure niche products by highlighting the people who ALSO use the product. Highly passionate individuals aggregate quickly and create a scale that eliminates the need for “mass appeal.” The tails of the normal curve are getting fatter and I think we have crossed the point where playing to the middle pays off.
This is fantastic if you are a builder because you have always hated average anyway.