I’ve just started reading Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae- Is Your Marketing Out of Sync? Even after just reading the first two chapters, I need to post about it.  It’s another great book by Seth, distilling something I think we all know at heart- you can’t disguise mediocrity in louder and flashier messages and make it any different than what it is. And average is fine in a lot of categories.

I want a good dishwasher soap and laundry detergent. One brand is not particularly better than another, although I trend towards some brands by habit. I do occasionally splurge and buy Good Home’s Laundry soap that smells like a great day at the beach, because having my sheets and towels smell great is a nice touch, and it’s a little pleasantness that’s worth the extra trip to a special store and paying extra to get. My point here is that Good Enough accounts for most of my purchases in this mundane category, yet I am willing to make an additional, pricer purchase of the “special” version of this boring product, because it has a clear value add for me.  Now, it’s also too pricey to make the main detergent in our house, given the sheer volume of laundry in a family, so I make a choice to use both the pedestrian and the “luxe”.

I think this is a choice most of us make every day.  We could have a cheap cup of coffee at home, or at a diner, but instead, we choose a latte at Starbucks or the local coffee house, because we are also buying the atmosphere, the “treat” factor, on top of the caffeine buzz we seek.    We pay extra for special, within reason.

What About Price, and Supply and Demand?

We could buy generic products if it were just about price, but we don’t always.  We want that extra something, and are willing to pay a bit more for it, within reason.  People aren’t price insensitive, but they are willing to pay for perceived quality when it matters.

For example, for furniture in my kid’s room, Ikea works well, looks decent, and is reasonable.  It is pressboard, and it isn’t forever furniture, but I don’t expect that from it, either.  However, when we bought our dining room table and our bedroom furniture, we bought hardwood furniture from Ethan Allen, that we know will last for years.  When we were shopping for the dining room table, a salesperson from Thomasville told me his table had a hardwood veneer, but was made and I quote “From space-age materials that will resist warping”.  Well, I want a dining room table that I can hand down to my kids someday, a place where we will have holiday dinners and make memories, not send it on the space shuttle.  No amount of modern, “space-aged materials” shpiel would sell me that table- space-age is not what I want from a dining room table.  Wrong marketing, wrong product for the sale.  And here’s the kicker- I was willing and did spend more for “the real thing”- a hardwood table.

Quality vs. Quantity- making the decision
Quality matters.  There’s a vast middle of the marketplace where good enough is good enough, but no matter how much you scream and yell, it won’t ever be more than it is- perfectly good, utilitarian stuff.  However, special commands a premium, even though you will sell less.  I don’t buy jewelry very often, but when I do, the first place I look is Tiffany’s- if I am going to splurge and get myself something special, I want the best, not just average or utilitarian.  Utilitarian is fine much of the time, but special is special, and I am willing to pay extra for that.

So in my version of economics, I buy the best I can for the money I can afford to spend, and I assume everyone else does the same.  There are many things, like duct tape, where brand name and quality differences are negligible to me- any old thing will do.  No amount of mass marketing will change my opiion of the quality of duct tape between 3M, the Duck Tape people, or the generic- it’s all the same to me, and a roll lasts me so long, the repurchase brand loyalty is non-existant.  It is probably different for people who use duct tape every day, but I don’t, so I don’t care.

In contrast, with things I use everyday and run out of frequently, like shampoo,  there’s a much better chance of convincing me to try something new- I may like what I am using, but a new advance in conditioning may be worth a $5.00 investment, at least once.  However, $20 shampoo better be amazing to justify the premium, and if it’s not significantly better by the end of the bottle, I am back to the cheap stuff- the premium just may not be worth it compared to results and expense. I may be willing to take a chance, now and again, but you have to make it really significantly better to keep my loyalty- otherwise, good enough is really good enough.

With Infinite Choice, How Do You Survive?

The internet has brought us virtually infinite choice, which means you have to be special and different to stick out above the rest.  You have to have something worth noticing, and worth spending time, money and attention on.  If you are just average, and cannot achieve the mass required to make money at average, you won’t last long.  Even if you are special, but can’t let people know, or convince them you are worth the premium, you won’t last long.

This is where the New Media marketing becomes the extra bonus prize inside- you can reach a targeted community who is more likely to be your customers- and if you can convince them that you are special and remarkable, then you have a chance at a wider appeal.  But if you can’t sell to your targeted demographic, if you can’t convince the people mot likely to be an easy sell, how will you convince anyone else- those you need to bridge the gap between niche and a real market for your goods or services?

From my point of view, I’d rather test my ideas on a targeted group of easy sell types, and see what they think, rather than look at the “everybody”.  The easy sell types will let you know pretty fast whether you are good enough to take the next step towards wider appeal, and if you can;t sell to the easy people, to your community, you don;t have a prayer with everyone  else, and you should do what Seth recommends in The Dip- know when to quit, and try something else entirely.  That’s smart business.