Polarizing Brands & Products Win

A slightly edited version of my post at the Stratechery forum (subscribers only). It’s a response to Ben Thompson’s very good piece and the related exponent.fm podcast episode.

In those works, Thompson develops the argument that the internet changes what kind of products are going to be successful. Namely the ‘best products’ instead of, as formerly, those that manage to not rub anybody the wrong way. Why? Because distribution is free, shelve-space no longer limited and consumers can choose between all products, not only those available at their mall or supermarket.

I do agree with that thesis –  but want to add one important notion: Best is in the eye of the beholder.

There are many criteria you can be best in. Which matter might differ a lot between different target groups. So, for most products ‘best’ isn’t determined on an objective scale. Instead, longtail audiences matter a lot. Whoever serves a certain segment best will win. That might actually increase the raw number of companies/brands that can exist. Each with a – relatively – smaller portion of the – absolutely – bigger pie.

One additional observation: Most big incumbent companies are structurally as well as mindset-wise very ill-suited to serve these niche audiences. They design products that ‘piss nobody off’ because they created streamlined but soulless organizations and avoid any friction. In turn, though, they aren’t truly appealing to or inspiring anybody.

To succeed in the internet age, however, you have to be polarizing (which is the result of being best for a very well-defined, pointed audience).

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