Squid soup, part II: Inertia and White food

Whitefood2The secret to true understanding of marketing has very little to do with permission or positioning or product development. It’s not about loyalty or conversations or blogging, either. Those are all essential ideas and tactics, but what really matters is brown rice and squid soup.

Imagine a hotel buffet. Dozens and dozens of items (this is an Amercian buffet, where excess is the key). You can have whatever you want, as much as you want.

The cost of making a mistake at the buffet is precisely zero. There is no time cost, no opportunity cost, no social cost. Put some on your plate, if you like it, you can have more.

So, it turns out at this buffet, the two best items (where best is obviously a loaded word, and in this case best to me means best tasting and simultaneously healthiest) were the brown rice and the squid soup. The brown rice was soft, just a little bit chewy. It was like very good white rice, but with flavor and texture that went beyond white rice. It was nutty and had both texture and flavor. And the squid soup had depth. The squid (yes, the name attracted me to the soup) was as soft as an egg noodle and the broth had tomatoes but didn’t taste like Campbell’s.

You’ve already guessed the punchline. Of the hundreds of people at the buffet, very few even tried either one.



There is a cost of trying the rice and the soup. The cost is the effort necessary to consider switching. Beyond that, there’s the (tiny) fear of tasting something you won’t like or the effort involved in realigning your worldview if you do like it.

“But I don’t like squid soup,” they say. Well, how exactly do you know that? What chance is there that they’ve previously tasted squid soup and rejected it? Close to zero. But this audience, this market, has a worldview, and it includes the rule: if it’s a weird food and it’s in a soup, I don’t like it. Getting rid of that rule requires effort.

I read a survey three years ago (beware surveys like this one) that said only a third of all Americans had ever tasted a bagel. Now, the bagels that are available in most places are horrible and not bagel-like at all, but the point is that in most areas, most endeavors, most markets, most people, when given the choice, try nothing.

The problem with the bell curve is that most people, in most situations, will ignore your idea.

Football is huge on television in the US, soccer is not: inertia. The fact that General Motors sells any cars at all is related to inertia. It’s not just the middle-America mass market at work here. This explains why an entire race of people on Easter Island became extinct—once they embraced a cultural system that involved cutting down trees, it was too hard to stop, even after they could see the coming danger.

It’s always easier to do nothing (new).

Humans embrace change far more than any animal on the planet. But we’re bad at it.

Of course, you’re not bad at it. You’re always buying new stuff, reading new blogs, trying new ideas. You’re the cutting edge… (which leads to my next post).