September 2010

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When this country was being settled those who were looking to develop an area of land realized something very important: they didn’t have to build a damn thing. Rather, all they had to do was survey the land, divide it up, and start selling it to the pioneers.

The land represented promise and possibility for these pioneers, and, in fact, many of them developed miraculous things upon this previously barren plot of possibility.

All along the way, of course, those who provided access to this possibility got rich.

We still see this. What is it, for instance, that GoDaddy is selling if not land for hopeful internet pioneers? GoDaddy provides the “surveying,” and then – via the “grant” of a URL – provides the “land” upon which entrepreneurs of all stripes attempt to develop something.

Why do music stores have mirrors? Aspiring musisicians want to see what they look like as a version of the possibility of their imagined self (holding a guitar, for instance). For many (most?) customers, music stores aren’t selling an instrument, they’re selling the possibility that the musician might arrive at their purpose and make meaning.

When we sat around a dining room table and cooked up what became TuneCore it became very clear that we weren’t really selling access to iTunes (though, in my very biased opinion TuneCore does do that better and in a more moral fashion than anyone else).

No, what we were selling was a tool to allow music pioneers to claim their plot of land on this new digital frontier (i.e. iTunes, etc.). This access did and still does represent possibility for these pioneers; TuneCore in this manner helps them achieve their purpose/meaning.

All businesses/artists/etc. must get out of the tool selling business and into the purpose/meaning selling business.

When someone views your photos at your exhibition, it won’t be the paper or the framing that makes them buy it, it will be because the image resonates on a personal level and represents meaning to the viewer.[*]

The purchaser will then explain to those who view the photo hanging in their house why this particular image “spoke” to them. (This is pretty much the definition of a social object, by the way.)

The thing is that most people keep thinking that they’re selling the tool and forget what they’re really selling is the access to meaning or purpose that the tool will help the customer attain.

Convince a customer that your tool — be it a service like TuneCore or a song or a film or a dietary supplement or a restaurant or a laundromat or a piece of code or a laptop or a Moleskine – will help them realize their internal aspirations more quickly and you’ll have unlimited customers.


[*]If they are buying the art because of the framing, it represents a decorating choice, not a decision based on meaning, and it is unlikely that this person will every buy any more of your art; rather they will buy the next piece of art that is framed in a decorative style that aligns with their decorating needs. In other words, they’re a non-value adding customer, and you’re really better off without the sale.

Due to fog I was recently stuck in Providence, and, of course, took the opportunity to dine at New Rivers. While the entire time I thought of how much I wished M was with me, I enjoy sitting at the bar alone, and, given my solo-ness, took some liberties that I otherwise wouldn’t.

For instance, after a fantastic appetizer and entree, I scanned the dessert menu, and then asked the bartender to see the dinner menu again.

While the desserts looked great, what I really wanted was …wait for it… the appetizer of, and I quote from the photo I took of the menu, “4 local littlenecks baked with our brioche crumbs, summer savory butter.”

I could think of no better “dessert.”

A few minutes later, to what I thought would be the dismay of the bartender and those around me I announced, “I have a suggestion.” Seeing the cocked eyebrows I continued, “Restaurants of this ilk should offer a savory ‘dessert.'” I continued: “Not some sort of cheese plate (not that there’s anything wrong with them), but something like clams that could really finish off a meal in a manner that yet another melting chocolate cake or sorbet with madeleines just can’t.” A dramatic pause, and then: “For dessert, I’ll take the clams!”

Well, after my little proclamation I was pleasantly surprised to find that those around me began chattering about what “savory” desserts they would be happy to see on a menu. (Is it any wonder that anyone with any sense always goes for the dessert that is described as containing salt (e.g. salted caramel whatever?))

Of course, the vast majority of people are perfectly content with desserts as we assume them to be, and would be repulsed by the idea of seeing some sort of, for instance, offal next to a profiterole on a menu.

But you know who I don’t really give a rat’s ass about? Exactly: “The vast majority of people.”

In fact, I believe there’s a vast market of people who are eager for something like clams for dessert. I also believe that, given the right organizational structure, these people often become something of a vocal minority.

My advice: Build businesses for those who go the opposite direction; for those whom the vast majority finds “weird;” for those whom make the vast majority uncomfortable.

The funny thing is that some material percentage of these things that the vast majority once found “weird” or disconcerting or unpalatable will be the same things that, in due course, are embraced by these same people (who will, of course, claim they’ve “always” loved these things).

At that point, you, the early adopter, will be significantly rewarded for being there first.

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