The majority isn’t interested

It doesn’t matter what it is your organization makes or sells, the majority isn’t interested in it.

Take me, for example. I’m a pretty savvy technology consumer. So you might expect me to own lots of stuff, right?

Wrong. The computer this is being written on is six years old. (It does just fine for what I use it for; much though I might salivate at the thought of a new one, it’s not a priority.) I have a tablet, but only because I won it, not because I paid for it. The only piece of technology I’ve bought new in the past three years was my phone, and only to replace one tied to my job with one that belonged to me.

Big HD television? I don’t watch enough television to need one — so I don’t need a home theatre setup or a Blu-Ray, either. Nor do I have an investment in gaming consoles.

What this means is that, for all that I know what’s going on in the technology space, almost 100% of new products shipped — hardware, software, service — have had no market with me.

That’s the norm. It’s also what everyone constantly overlooks.

There are, for instance, two markets much more “saturated” than the technology one.

“Democrat or Republican”, and “Coke or Pepsi”, are convenient catch-phrases for situations where it seems everyone has made a choice and the fight that’s left is for a tenth of a point of share, period.

Really? 40% and more don’t vote. Another 2% or so vote something else. So much for “mandates”.

As for soft drinks, even if you lumped “everything we ship” into the labels ‘Coke’ and ‘Pepsi’, so that the bottled water, fruit juices, other types of fizzy confections all fell into two broad corporate names, what do you do with the people who never touch the stuff. Any of it.

There are lots of people who have never been in a CostCo or Sam’s Club and have no intention of going. Not because they’re snobs. They just don’t like cheap Chinese junk, or they don’t drive (tried wrestling case lots of anything on a bus or streetcar?), or they live in a small place that’s short on storage. Or they prefer the joy of walking down the street popping into this neighbourhood shop and that (“Hi, Jack!” “How’s it going, Mary?”) doing a few errands each day, seeing people, stopping for coffee, enjoying life.

For everyone who can’t wait to get to Tim Hortons or Starbucks, there’s someone who walks right by them to visit Manic, Sam James, Red Rocket, Seb’s, or the local café for a cup of regular, and someone else for whom coffee just isn’t on their agenda.

When you’re on the inside of an organization, the discussion soon focuses down to what that organization does. If you work at Pepsi, getting another linear foot of shelf space for Pepsi products at every Safeway or Loblaws is a passion — getting another restuarant to change from the competitor is an essential — getting to another one tenth of one percent of market share is key. But you lose sight of all the people who walk right by and never pick up any product from Pepsi or any other equivalent manufacturer.

Look at McDonald’s: I may not like the corporation, but they at least see that they’d better think about other types of business. That’s why they have espresso-based coffee, bistro sandwiches and many other “move into the next segment” initiatives. They view the market as “if you want fast, we want your money”.

But even McDonald’s misses the much larger part of the whole story: the people who don’t want fast, the people who like to visit multiple venues for different purposes, the ones who like to cook…

Why I’ve been going through all this today is to make a point. Seeing future threats and opportunities means getting outside your normal restricted view of things.

I’ve talked about the smartphone market in previous posts not because I’m interested in it (beyond owning one and therefore having made a judgement about which would serve my needs best) but because it’s gone through a lot of turmoil and is still rapidly expanding, meaning it can go through it again. Whether RIM can come back from its one-foot-in-the-grave status, whether Apple’s “closed ecosystem” is a threat, etc. really aren’t relevant (unless that’s part of a personal future that matters to me).

Today, in a world abuzz with the possibilities of “big data”, we’re going to find organizations becoming ever more narrow in what’s allowed to be discussed. Like the old joking definition of university life from a Bachelor’s degree to a Ph.D. (you’ll know more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing) it’ll be easier to pretend that we have insight into the future.

Real insight into it — one of the core requirements of undertaking personal due diligence — comes from seeing what’s not there.

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