A Market for Stability: Lessons from Facebook, Netflix and the like.
I am convinced that despite all of the talk and action to the contrary these days, there is a market for stability. As in, a large portion of consumers who are content with the status quo of their product or service for now. Any changes are best made slowly and with as much explanation as possible to such a demographic.
Not only am I convinced that such a type of consumer exists, but I feel bold enough to state that for at least some services and products they represent the largest group, and companies often ignore them, if not to their peril, than at least to their regret for a while.
There are plenty of examples lately. Netflix/Quikster. Facebook. Brazen Careerist. All had a great idea to begin with, and for a while made gradual adjustments to improve the execution of said unique mission. Then this disease of innovation for the sake of innovation crept in, and the very people who made these entities what they are, (as in, the current majority of consumers) are left out in the cold to either adjust to the whimsical desire to “jump out of our comfort zone”, or leave the service.
This wholesale abandonment of the masses that have quite simply, made such places is not random. It is driven by a stupefying and discouraging desire to cater not to the 95% of users who are happy for now, but to the maybe 5% of users called “trend setters”.
These are the people that always want the “next” thing whether it works or not. The people who geek out at every small possibility that a phone could have next year, and are not satisfied unless their phone, and every other damn phone in the world shifts to have that very thing, whether the vast majority of humanity needed it or not. The people who see it as their responsibility to somehow insist that their own personal “edgy” preferences are always implemented. This, so that they can can singlehandedly pull the dissatisfied and ignored consumer majority into their version of the “future.” And of course by the time the inertia of so many customers being forced towards the New Jerusalem is complete, the 5% is again calling for a new trend, service, policy, procedure or some other “it” thing. And the process begins anew.
It is allowed to do so all of the time, because companies like the ones I mention above, along with countless others, always cater to that 5% who says it is possible to change something, ergo it must be changed. The prescient elite have determined that a popular feature is redundant, so the 100 million other people who still make regular, comfortable use of same will have to go without, their ire be damned. Then it all gets wrapped up into the concept of “leaving the comfort zone” or “pushing the envelope”, to which more and more trend setters, business people, and especially social media gurus feel the need to genuflect before taking their morning piss.
There is an irony to all of this. The very act of changing the fundamental nature of one’s brand, mission, product, service, or demographic, in order to “stay fresh” (that term always sounded vaguely foul to me), in fact makes a company just another run of the mill, boring bottom line oriented fad chaser left shaking in their boots. In other words, they “go corporate” and in so doing, lose any real distinction to which they could lay previous claim. It’s almost to the point where remaining a solid, constant brand which is open with its thoughts about change, and gradual in the implementation is in fact the most unconventional way to do business. In a world where a brand is considered outdated if it hasn’t changed its logo today, being committed to a mission is being edgy.
I have said it before and I will again. You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. But you know what? You can catch even more flies with a big steaming pile of shit. In other words, yes, a company may continue to see success by the numbers, (Facebook’s atrocious changes aside, they still have 750 million users), but those numbers will likely be people who try everything ones. Or people that have no discernment. Or people that just follow the crowd because they don’t know any better. Such a crowd will keep you afloat for a while. But beware; they know no loyalty. As soon as the flavor of the month changes, those flies will be all over the other shit.
Change is sometimes needed. Nobody makes a living building covered wagons anymore. But evolution and innovation are not always the same thing. Especially when a move as radical as Facebook makes every month leaves almost everyone confused, annoyed, and less likely to use the service.
Instead of the reinvention, focus changes, divestitures, mergers, consolidations, pushing of envelopes and shocking of the system, show me a company that knows it offers something that could be changed in a radical way every few weeks, (based on that whiny and vocal 5% needles them about all the time), but opts instead to be content to let true brand loyalty build overtime based on a consistent, stable presence.