Avoiding the Passion Pop Gulf

Here’s a new curve for you: I’m calling it the passion/pop curve.

That bell curve to the left represents acceptance by the focused/excited/tastemaking community. Those are the people who love microbeers and haute couture and Civil War memorabilia. Like all market curves, there’s a sweet spot. Go too nutsy on us ($90,000 turntables, for example) and even the committed will flee. Go too pop, though, and we’ll avoid you as well.

Simple example: Jazz. If you do atonal world jazz played in the dark underwater, few people will come. On the other hand, you won’t get many jazz fans at a Spyrogyra concert either. Too pop.

The bell curve on the right, you’ll notice, is bigger. This is a second market, a bigger market, the market of pop. These are the folks who go to the Olive Garden for a nice italian meal instead of the authentic place down the street. They too want something that’s not too edgy and not too (in their opinion) trite.

The reason you need to care is that gap in the middle. Every day, millions of businesses get stuck in that gap. They either move to the right in search of the masses or move to the left in search of authenticity, but they compromise. And they get stuck with neither.

A delta blues guy who plays for tiny audiences in Memphis is in the sweet spot of the passionate. John Mayer is in the sweet spot of pop. Both are great guitarists, neither is too edgy or too trite. Both made a choice. But there are a thousand guitarists who are neither. They’re afraid to embrace one curve or the other and end up with neither.

You can move a curve one or way or the other… the curves change all the time. Chuck Mangione was pop for a while, much to the derision of the jazz purists. Now, though, the curve of pop has moved and Chuck can’t possibly chase it down.

It’s not just musicians, of course. Even dentists face this quandary. Should you be the most expensive, best trained, most extreme dentist in the world, catering to the edge of the passion market, or perhaps develop a chain of $19 five-minute whitening shops for the outer edge of the pop market?

You might get lucky and end up with a sweet spot accidentally. Inevitably, you’ll itch to move to the other curve (cause it’s bigger or because it feels more authentic) and I worry about your ability to do that.

The best choice is to choose.