Mr Ryan owned a corner shop in the tiny Dublin suburb where I grew up. It supported his family and employed his children while they studied for over 20 years. He didn’t seem to worry when yet another big supermarket opened close by. Sure, he knew some of his customers would go there for special offers, but he also knew that he wasn’t after the ‘market of everyone’. He didn’t need everyone to keep going, he just needed to matter to enough people, by doing things the big guys couldn’t do.
When industry and innovation became very focused on the metric of more, we lost sight of the fact that more wasn’t always the best place to start. And then ironically the Internet, which could help us to reach everyone, made us realise that there were ‘tiny markets of someone’. As Seth Godin pointed out in a recent and brilliant (as always) talk the bell curve has melted. Not only is there no longer a mass market, but most of the successful companies, game-changing innovations and products and services we care about were designed to cater for people at the edges.
How did a tiny yogurt company compete with industry giants who had twenty times their budget and controlled two-thirds of the market? In five years, Chobani went from having almost no revenue to selling a predicted $1 billion worth of yogurt in 2013. They started at the edges, doing things the bigger brands were not prepared to do, for people that wanted difference.
Airbnb went from appealing to people at the edges (who would want to share a stranger’s apartment?), to having over 300,000 listings worldwide in 33,000 cities and booking 10 million nights in 192 countries within 5 years.
Method entered the household cleaner market which was dominated by big players like P&G, and differentiated at the edges on results, safety, sustainability, design, and scent. The company achieved over 500% growth in just 3 years.
Can you name any brand that’s gained loyalty, love and traction over the past decade that didn’t begin at the edges? Red Bull, Facebook, zipcar, TED, Kickstarter, Instagram, Spanx, Starbucks, Warby Parker, Zappos, Kindle, Innocent, PayPal, TaskRabbit, Green & Blacks, even Amazon and Apple didn’t begin by targeting the market of everyone.
The truth is that ‘the masses’ don’t want to feel like ‘the masses’. They want to discern. To choose. To be seen. To matter. Your customers don’t want to be just anyone, they want to be someone.
Image by erban.