I wrote this post originally for LinkedIn’s marketing and advertising section
When it comes to being a mass market success, the goal is not to market to everyone. Instead, the goal is to market to a small group of people who share a similar worldview as yours. Typically however, marketers spend all their time and budget marketing to the masses, trying to convince the 85% of people who don’t resonate with their products on why they should buy from them. Instead, businesses should only be interested in marketing to the 15% of those who need what they’re selling because they’ll spread your message to everyone else. This is how ideas and products become widespread.
Why trying to market to everyone fails
Joshua Bell, who is a Grammy award winning violinist, conducted a social experiment with the Washington Post, where they wanted to answer the question: If a world famous violinist played great classical music in a city crowd, would people stop and listen?
On January 12, 2007, Joshua Bell put on a baseball cap and played his $3 million violin in the metro station in Washington DC, and no one stopped to watch him. This is someone who people pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to see play and yet 1,070 people passed Bell that day without paying any attention to him.
Why? Because Bell wasn’t playing to the right market. What this means is in order to grow a successful business or build a trusting brand, you have to learn to market to your own audience, which is the group of people who actually want to listen to you play.
If a group of people don’t like what you’re playing, that’s fine because you can’t market to everyone. No one can play something that everyone wants to hear. There is no product that everyone will want to buy. And so you can spend all of your time and money trying to convince every last person to buy your product or you can just learn to say, “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t for you then.”
Bell is considered to be one of the greatest violinist in the world, but the world wouldn’t have known how great Bell was if he had spent his life trying to play to the wrong audience.
Find your 15%
One of my favorite marketing concepts that demonstrates why no one stopped to watch Joshua Bell play that day is the idea known as The Law of Diffusion of Innovation, which says, at different points of time, consumers all lie within one of five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
The first 2.5% to adopt a new idea or buy a new product are called innovators. Getting 1-2% of customers in a market is relatively easy if you know who your target customers are because there are always innovators in a market who are willing to listen to and adopt new ideas and buy new products.
The following 13.5% are the early adopters. Unfortunately for Bell, his innovators and early adopters aren’t typically walking through the metro station and so his marketing strategy, which was him playing his violin to as many people as possible, fell flat.
The next 34% are the early majority. These are the people who aren’t risk takers. They let the innovators and early adopters go first so that they can feel more confident about adopting new ideas and buying new products. These are the people who would listen to Bell only if they saw that the innovators and early adopters were surrounding and listening to Bell first.
The next 34% are the late majority, and the last 16% are called laggards. Laggards are the people who buy DVDs only because VHS tapes are hard to find.
In order to reach the majority of consumers and attain mass market success, you have to achieve a tipping point of 15-18% conversion. Once you hit this tipping point, the early majority will begin to take on. This is where ideas and products become massively adopted and is why crowds will start to form around street performers.
The reason most startups and businesses will fail is because they aren’t able to market to the innovators and early adopters. In other words, they aren’t able to find their audience. Instead, they market themselves to the majority, but the majority are very good at ignoring everything unless they know the innovators and early adopters are consuming it.
If you want to successfully market your business, you have to first attract those who need what you have to offer. If they like you, they’ll spread your message to the masses.
What separates an average marketer who can at best tell a good story from an intelligent marketer who understands how to tell a great story is that great stories are rarely ever aimed towards everyone. Instead, they’re generally aimed towards a small audience. Marketers who try to edit and frame their story in a way so that it will appeal to everyone, will see that it will appeal to no one. The stories, the ideas, and the products that have become wide spread have taken off because that story, that idea, and that product originally resonated with a small group of people so greatly that they felt they had to share it with others.