July 8, 2020

We are all weird — what we can learn from sub-cultures and niches about marketing

I’m on a bit of a Seth Godin run and as I try to learn as much as I can about marketing and developing some of those skills around marketing, I am trying to read as many books as I can. This book in particular ‘We are all weird’ is about a trend that has already happened (the book was printed in 2011) and even right now, the trend is happening and we are all in the middle of it.

Seth talks about this in his book This is Marketing but I’ll repeat it here: back in the day, companies could buy ads and see that the more ads they bought, the more sales they got. This turned into a ratchet – buy more ads, get more profit, buy even more ads, get even more profit, etc. At some point though, as technology got better and better and there was a revolution of networks (i.e., the internet), you couldn’t just buy ads anymore and see your sales go up. People had a choice for what they wanted.

Weird is the new marketing trend

Think about even now when you want to buy something simple, say a backpack. When I was in the market for a backpack, I wanted something rugged, durable, had lots of pockets and organization functions, could carry a water bottle on the outside of the bag, was lightweight, easy to carry, could protect a laptop and many other features that I could go on and on about. If you were buying a backpack, you might think of different things (your priorities and values would certainly be different than mine). What I am trying to say here is that I can get exactly what I want on the market and you can get exactly what you want on the market and we would both be happy. There are so many backpacks on the market now that target specific niches of customers (as an example, there are backpacks that are purely cloth so that you can store it completely in your jacket pocket, there are backpacks that are so durable that they have lifetime warranties, there are backpacks that are theft proof / slash proof, there are even backpacks for hello kitty lovers). Make no mistake, what I mean here by ‘weird’ is not weird in the sense of strange or bizarre (like the looks we might give to weird people on the subway) but weird is another way of saying that particular niche of people that like that particular category.

Start with the smallest possible audience and grow your loyal fans from there

Noah Kagan has some great advice for starting a business which I think is applicable here. When he wanted to start a business, he looked at some of the problems he was facing. Why? Because if he solved that problem, he knew that he at least had a market of one (himself) and while we would like to think that we are all unique, we are also similar in many ways. He knew that if he solved that problem for a market of one, that others would be like him and want that solution as well (I mean, take a look at his current business app sumo – he wanted discounted software and tools to help him in his entrepreneurial journey and now it is a 7 figure business).

Do you like to drink your tea in a particular way? Maybe at a particular temperature? Take a look at the Ember mug – paired with an app, you can digitally set your preferred temperature for your tea or coffee so that you never have coffee too hot or too cold.

Marketing to the masses does not work anymore

Imagine, if you will, that everyone is on a big bell curve. Back in the day, the majority of individuals would sit inside the bell curve (if you know statistics, the majority of people would sit within one standard deviation on both ends). That curve is changing – the curve is much flatter nowadays with the amount of choice that people have and therefore, it does not pay to market to the masses (and you probably do not have that much of a budget to market to the masses either). Why not start small? In fact, with a flatter bell curve, you have more ‘weird’ people outside of the standard deviation than inside of it.

Sometimes it is much better to be a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond – there’s a ramen place in Oliver Square called Tokiwa which always has line-ups (even on the weekends and on the Sunday that I went). Why? Why not expand? They also have limited soup that they cook and when they run out, they close down. Why not make more soup? Maybe part of the reason why is to instil a sense of demand in their restaurant. Rather than try to expand quickly, making tons of soup, etc. they want to cater to those diehard ramen fans that love their soup and would willing line up to have a big bowl of their ramen soup.


What does this mean if you are starting a business or looking to market your products / services / skills to others? I think what it means is that while we can be cognizant of bigger trends, we really have to understand deeply a particular organization or customer’s needs or wants. If we can make one customer care about what we are selling, I really think there’s an opportunity to make other customers care too.


About the author:

Wang is a management consultant, self-published author, Distinguished Toastmaster, co-host of a podcast, Udemy teacher, former Uber driver and all around hustler. He is also obsessed about books and he reads books so that you don’t have to. Want a list of Wang’s top ten formative books in his life and career? Interested in book summaries and recommendations every month? Subscribe to Wang’s e-mail newsletter!

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