Seth Godin wrote a terrific post today relating the contrast between concert opening acts and rock stars to the different grades of marketers. He has some very good advice for all of us: Seek out a small audience who thinks you're a rock star and then grow that audience. Don't go out into the market as an opening act and have the market shape your work based upon something else they love (the rock star). You want to stand on your own two feet and have customers who love you and will back you exactly the way you are.
Many companies are so hungry for growth, so hungry for fast, quick wins, that they do whatever they have to do to their products and services to make them appeal to everyone. Of course some other companies focus so closely on one tiny piece of the market that they exclude others who might also benefit from their products with just a few weeks. So what's a company to do?
A few ideas:
1.) The "Me-conomy" seems endless. The personalization trend can be seen everywhere in the market. Is it possible for a customer to customize some piece or your product or service to make it suit them perfectly? This allows you to serve a number of different groups with just a few minor changes to your product. Think about what adding colors and engraving to the ipod did for that product!
2.) There are a lot of ways to slice and dice a market into segments. Is there a segment that you can serve that's small enough to provide something special to them while also having a wide enough appeal to enough people to meet your costs and profit goals?
3.) Look for holes in the market. Many companies are set on being fast followers. They don't want to get out there, innovate, and build something new. Fear holds them back. They'd prefer to watch others, copy, and paste. The saddest part about this kind of ambition is that it never allows you to be the first in the market to fill an unmet need that makes consumers grateful and loyal to your brand. You're just an opening act in that scenario. You want to be the first association a customer makes with a new product or service. You don't want people to say, "Oh yeah, there's that option, too" about your brand. So get out there, talk to people, and find a way to provide a service or product that makes their lives easier.
While it's fun to play in the market, it's more fun to build a market and delight customers with a product or service they never even thought was possible. Your following will be filled with early adopters at first so learn from them, get their input, improve your offering, and other people outside of that early adopter segment will catch on. Be a rock star.