History is littered with people who are different, people with bold ideas who balked at the majority mindset. Even more intriguing, these individuals may start by appealing to a niche audience, but ultimately end up in the mainstream. The steam engine, the automotive, the computer—all initially appealed to a niche audience before gaining mainstream acceptance.
The conundrum I’ve wondered about is whether it’s possible to remain different while occupying the mainstream. Does occupying the mainstream mean you forget how to think differently? And what happens when you try skip the niche (or attempt to) and go mainstream from the beginning?
Highlighting these issues is the recent angst in Silicon Valley (interesting write ups by Renee Blodgett and Anne Zelenka) over the chase for money replacing the chase for technology. The “Next Big Thing” believes its billion-dollar IPO lies in pounding down Michael Arrington‘s or Robert Scoble‘s door.
These companies have stopped thinking about how to be bold, how to be different and appealing to their niche. Instead, these companies want mainstream attention right from the beginning, ignoring the reality that you can’t be all things to everyone and experience long-term success. Blodgett sums it up perfectly:
“When I first moved here not quite three years ago, I had companies beg me to take them on, requesting that their coming out party be at Mike Arrington’s house. “That’s your idea of a PR strategy?” I asked. It didn’t seem to matter that Arrington’s audience wasn’t one that some of these companies needed to reach.”
More Than Static Relationships
I view “Web 2.0” with pleasure because it’s more than static Web pages. It’s about community and interaction. It’s about the people using the technology as much as the technology itself. These services got their start by thinking differently. What happened? Do we have to reach “Web 3.0” before new companies see a different way to reach an audience besides relying on Arrington and Scoble?
I think Albert Einstein had the right idea: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” (link) Attention doesn’t always land where it’s due. But did the hard lessons of the first bubble go unnoticed? The companies with value, like Amazon, survived the downturn because they offered value. If Arrington and Scoble stopped blogging tomorrow, what could a company do to attract an audience?
The companies who got their start by thinking differently need to think beyond the top bloggers. The true innovators who want to move the industry forward will take the challenge. They’ll ignore obvious routes and make their own path. Once again, they’ll stand out by being different. I suspect they’ll be different enough to appeal to even the most jaded blogger, including Arrington and Scoble.