17 March 2021
When I was around ten years old, I had an Instamatic camera. Each year, when we went on holiday, I was allowed to have a 36-shot camera roll. I had three weeks to spread out those 36 shots.
To increase the Jeopardy, I wouldn’t know what they looked like until a week after our return when I had received the photos back from being processed. I still remember that Christmas morning feeling of getting my wallet of pictures, full of excitement, only to find that half of them had a shadow of my finger on the bottom-right corner, combined with several blurry images.
I still placed the best ones in the family photo album, though.
We had two albums bursting at the seams to document 15 or so years of my parents’ family life together, between two adults and three children. Probably 200-300 photos in all.
100-years ago, people didn’t travel much. They lived in towns and cities, making do with a finite number of resources. If you wanted vegetables, you’d go to the grocers. If you wanted a new pot, you’d go to the hardware store.
Back to today and I am buying a paella pan as a gift. Yep, an implement designed to cook a specific Spanish meal – the world’s changed a lot.
It was a perfect job for the Internet. Except, Amazon offered me 666 options to chose from with polished steel, enamelled steel, and stainless steel pans in a range of sizes and colours – each product with vastly differing prices and a bunch of reviews to sway me.
Half an hour later, I was still trying to decide.
The Growth Of Mass
In the late 17th Century, the power of water and steam was harnessed to kick-start the industrial age, with automated machinery that could do manual jobs faster, cheaper and more reliably. Then in the 1920s came mass production. Faster, cheaper, more, which led to mass marketing to sell more stuff to more people to make less people rich.
Then, in the late 20th Century, the Internet changed the game again. Combined with production technology, we no longer need mass, we can build to demand. We’ve arrived at the point of easy access to unlimited choice at affordable prices, with AI the next frontier in line to deliver quicker and cheaper. Advisors and consultants everywhere beware.
The problem with mass and unlimited and cheap is choice. It becomes more difficult to pick a photo or a paella pan because you know you could have made another choice, possibly a better one. What’s more, with reviews and recommendations, you’ll have people inadvertently pointing out that the choice you made is a mistake, even if it is only one person out a hundred.
Meanwhile, our addiction to social media streams, full of people trying to impress upon us in a curated, filtered way, add to our insecurities and confusion about decision making.
Matching a product or service to what someone needs or wants and cutting through the noise is more challenging than ever before. When I’m consulting and ask people who their customers are, I still wince when I hear, “it could be anyone really”.
If you think like that, you are a photo in 5,000, a paella pan in 600.
But, as soon as you identify the simple fit that makes a simple product a simple buy, it’s surprising how simple things become. Your customer base may not be in the millions (it doesn’t have to be), but you can focus on creating a simple relationship with the customers that would buy your product.
You can also be discerning about where you market and sell. You can bring your audience back to being a local grocer or hardware store, not restricted by geography, just by your circle of customers.
Honing, culling and restricting, it's the new Global Local.