Be Smart, Be Strategic, But Above All, Be Remarkable

toby-keith-goes-crazy-on-peter-cooperDespite not knowing his music, I often quote country star and Ford truck pitchman Toby Keith when presenting to clients, specifically his brilliant line “If you’re middle of the road, you’re just stuck in traffic.”

That’s more than just a philosophy or opinion; today it’s a proven fact.  A must-read article in this month’s issue of The Economist outlines our radically-evolved entertainment consumption habits.  Television is dead…except it’s not (despite the proliferation of cable and satellite choice, the Wednesday “American Idol” averages 16.5m households).  The music industry is finished, except Billboard disagrees (album sales are down nearly 20% but sales at the top of the charts are slightly up).  No one goes to movies anymore…except they do (“New Moon” earned more in one day than any movie ever).  No one reads books…and yet bestsellers move more volumes today than ever (take Dan Brown…please).

And that’s the key word: best sellers.  Rather remarkably, we live in a time of both the long tail and the blockbuster.  Chris Anderson’s famous prediction of the explosion of niche markets as demand for media migrates from the head of the distribution curve where a few products dominate sales back to the tail where a great many can sell modestly has definitely come true.  And yet simultaneously, the mega productions at the other end of the spectrum have grown as well.  The reason for this may be as simple as society’s ingrained desire for shared experiences or as modern culture driven as the hypothesis that when offered so many choices, we will opt for the popular ones as the best investment of our all-too-scarce time.  That explains why albums ranked between 300 and 400 and television shows below the top ten struggle to survive—there are just too many better options immediately available to suffer through Two and A Half Men for a half hour, hoping something better comes along.

Hits and niche provide today’s power markets, which can be very exciting.  Unfortunately, most advertised products live—or historically have lived—in the vast middle: not too too either way, just pleasantly widespread and accessible.  But to maintain health in this new market, brands and their brand managers need to radically re-imagine their vision for the product.  Stay too broad and you are open to creeping parity from higher-value alternatives.  Hold to your historical marketing methods and brand voice and you grow easily lost in the hue and cry of a highly distracted market perpetually searching for the new thrill, the new idea, the new new thing.

Even if you can’t move entirely to the edges, every brand can and should make forays there in hopes of influencing opinion leaders and spurring word of mouth.  But those communications will have to be more singular, more engaging, more remarkable.  The comfortable idea is rarely viral.

For many, that’s a scary thought.  And these are scary times.

But it’s also an awesome thought.  Because these are exponential times.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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