The paradox of the middle of the market

The middle of the market is the juicy part, where profit meets scale.

The paradox is that it's almost impossible to make a product or service for this segment, because they want the tried, the true and the boring.

A friend writes a blog and books for this market. They need his writing. He delivers a lot of value. And yet, it's going to take years (if ever) before he reaches them. That's because this market doesn't seek out new ideas, doesn't leave comments on blogs, doesn't spend a lot of time urging others to check out this new thing. He's spending all his focus on this market, and they're not repaying his focus with their attention.

The middle of the market is the home of Sinatra, Diamond, and Streisand. There's an endless list of others that would like to break in, but it rarely happens. The leading edge of the market is a lot smaller, but far easier to cater to, because those folks are looking and listening and talking. The middle will catch up, eventually, but that doesn't mean you have to bet on them.

In my post yesterday, I talked about the temptation to merely pander to the geeks. It's not that difficult to write a blog, for example, that repeatedly shows up on Digg or Reddit. The thing is, this audience is fickle and they don't often convert into paying customers or long-term fans. It's not that difficult to be haute couture, to be fashionable, cutting edge or fickle. What's difficult is figuring out how to make it pay.

I'm not talking about compromising or dumbing down your product. A very hot hot sauce is remarkable. A sort of hot one is boring, and no one, not even the geeks will talk about it. I'm talking about designing products that are simultaneously remarkable and palatable to people in the middle of the market.

The middle of the market is a paradox because of the inherent contradiction between the ease of reaching the nerds and the geeks and the need to reach the middle. The solution, if there is one, is to enter a market to the enthusiastic cheers of those in search of the new, but to build a product/service that appeals to those in the middle. After the initial wave of enthusiasm, you hunker down and ignore those that first embraced you, obsessing instead on the needs and networks of the middle. It's a difficult balancing act, but it's the only one that works.

Ultimately, you end up disappointing the hard core that first found you, but because of their initial enthusiasm (and more important, because you designed your work for the masses in the first place), your product crosses the chasm and reaches a larger group. The formula starts with a service or product that's purple enough to spread, but not so hyper-fashionable that it merely entertains the insiders.