Spread your ideas

Why do some brands catch on, while others fade into the background wither away and die? In an age of commerce where customers have too many choices and too little time, the message is clear: you have to be remarkable, people must know what you are doing.

Let’s start with a really sad story. Have you ever heard of Otto Rohwedder? No? well, he’s the man who invented of the best things ever: sliced bread. He did it way back in the 1910s. Unfortunately, he was also a spectacular failure as an entrepreneur. One of the total failures to ever graze on our earth. You see, for the first fifteen years that sliced bread was available, nobody knew about it, and nobody bought it. It was a complete and utter failure. Why? Because Otto didn’t know how to market his invention. He didn’t know how to get people to talk about it. He didn’t know how to get his invention to be part of his vocabulary. Frustrated, Mr Rohwedder gave up, closed his factory and concluded that nobody actually wanted sliced bread in the first place. How wrong he was.

You have to Spread your Ideas

To get what you want out of your business, to grow into a brand that people actively seek out over your competitors, you’re going to have to figure out how to make your idea spread. It’s that simple, and that hard. Because ideas that spread, win. The most important asset you can ever have is an idea that’s worth spreading. Ideas that spread, win. Richard Branson knows it. Barack Obama knows it. Justin Bieber knows it. Ellon Musk knows it. In this coming year, this principle applies to everybody, regardless of what you do for a living if you are serious with your business.

How ideas used to spread

In the past, it was easier to spread an idea. How so? Simple. Just buy advertising, and lots and lots of it. Lots. Think about all the brands you’re loyal to. Your kitchen cleaner. Your headache tablets. Your breakfast cereal. All these brands solve your problem. There’s very little incentive for you to switch anytime soon. They’ve got you. So what was it that first enticed you to choose those particular brands over all the rest? The chances are, it was advertising. Advertising is how those big, legacy companies got to be the size they are. They made average products for average people, bought lots of advertising in the mass media, over and over, and ploughed all their profits back into buying more ads. Smart. But what most brand managers are realizing in 2014 is that this model doesn’t work as much as it used to. And, for smaller outfits with shallow pockets, it’s not an option at all, because most consumers’ buying habits are pretty much fixed. Why should they invest a minute of their time to switching to your brand when they’re quite happy with the one they have?

Nobody cares about your brand

Consumers don’t care about you at all. They just don’t. Part of the reason is this: they have far more choices than they used to, and far less time to make them. And in a world like this, the obvious thing for them to do is to simply ignore as much as they can. There are too many marketing messages out there telling them to buy this and buy that. They’re overloaded. They have to filter this noise out.

Enter the green goat

Let’s adopt a famous example from Seth Godin’s bestseller, Purple Cow. Imagine you’re driving down the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban. How many goats will you see on the way? May be a hundred. Do you stop to look at any of them? Of course, not. Goats are boring. They’re practically invisible. You’ve seen thousands of them, and they all just can’t always be something for your immediate focus. But what would happen if you saw a bright green one? Now that would be something special. You’d stop the car and get out for a closer look. You’d walk up to the goat and touch it, to check if it really was bright green. Maybe you’d phone a friend or two. You’d definitely take a few pictures. Memories. And you’d definitely tell your family when you got home. The thing that decides what gets purchased is this: is it remarkable? Is it worth making a remark about? That’s the essence of where modern marketing is going. It’s no longer about interrupting people with big, full page ads – or insisting on meeting with people. It’s a totally different sort of process that determines which ideas spread and which ones don’t.

Go for the finges

Be remarkable. And, slowly, it will spread from one person to the next, and the next. What marketers used to do is make average products for average people. That’s what mass marketing is. They aimed for the centre of the market. That was the safest strategy for them. But it’s not the safest strategy for you. You have to aim for the finges. Aim for the people who really want what you need. The people in the niches. Why? Because people in the middle of the market don’t have any problems that you can solve. Their patterns are set, and they’re really good at ignoring you because you’re not relevant to them. To make a successful product or business idea in 2015, you have to have common ground with an audience, a group that really cares about what you have to say. Find that group and talk to them, because they’re the only ones that are listening. You don’t have to be really outrageous to do this. All you have to do is figure out what your chosen niche market wants – and give it to them.

The riskiest thing you can do now is be safe

The average-products-for-average-people model is no longer the way forward. The safe this is to be at the finges. It’s at the finges that people wait in line for you. It’s at the finges where people pay a premium. It’s at the finges where people remark. If there’s a limit, you must test it. To be ‘above average’ is no good either. In fact, it’s just as risky. It’s boring. It doesn’t matter who you are. If your business is just ‘above average’, it’s not going to work, because nobody’s going to notice it, and your idea won’t spread.