The Dip, The Purple Cow,
The Blue Ocean Strategy, and The Long Tail
In which I simultaneously affirm and deny Godin, et al.
Part of Godin’s basic messages in The Dip are:
- All new projects, activities, and enterprises, go through a tough patch after the initial enjoyable learning and before the real rewards.
- Focus only being the very best in one thing.
Think of it as “Go big, or go home.” Godin points out that the benefits of being the very best in a field are disproportionately high. Being number one isn’t twice as good as being number two; it’s hugely better.
I don’t disagree. In fact, I agree. I also found good insight into our natural human behavior in trying anything new. Sometimes I should quit before I start. Sometimes, I should stick with a tough learning curve because the rewards will be worth it.
Many people, including Heidi Miller, are finding this message a personal challenge. Should she give up her enjoyment of ballroom dancing if she’ll never be the world champion? Should she drop entirely out of the declining trade show marketing field and focus absolutely exclusively on becoming the world’s finest podcast consultant, even though the new field is brutally competitive and the profits are thin? You can see why this is a difficult subject.
Small town entrepreneurs frequently patch together multiple businesses and income streams from unrelated activities. I’m a liquor store owner who also does websites and grant writing, plus raises cattle. Which should I give up, and which single thing should I focus on becoming the number one in the world? Should I have never become an antiques dealer if I never intended to conquer that world? If so, how would I have gained the knowledge that I learned from that experience?
Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail concept gives us another view of the world, far past the number one in the world market. Way below the corporate profit levels are untapped smaller markets, the long tailing off portion of the graph. Most of us have heard of orphan diseases, with too small of a market to attract big research bucks. Think of the long tail as the orphan markets, too small or too rural or too remote or too low-tech to draw large companies in to serve them. You and I can slide into these unserved markets and make a business. Some long tail markets are more than big enough to build a sustainable profit for a relatively small or medium enterprise. Some are tiny.
So maybe it makes some sense to have multiple small town business lines. If you can tie together enough small markets in the long tail, you can make a living in your rural area.
But then who is right? Should we always strive for the short head, being number one and the big rewards, or should we carve up the long tail into a kingdom of tiny parcels? Can you be the big number one in a tiny slice of the market, and is that being true to either concept?
Chris Penn started an argument with Jeff Pulver over long tail versus short head. Pulver sees value in creating content for all the little niche markets in the long tail. Penn says the long tail is only a viable play for the content aggregator, never for an individual.
But why be in this kind of a fight at all? Why not get away from everyone else, be different? Godin has a book on that, too, the Purple Cow. You have to be very different, remarkable, to gain attention.
The Blue Ocean Strategy takes it further, calling on us to sail far from the bloody competitive world and create a market out in the calm blue open space. If you are the only one, you must be number one! I learned this from one of my readers, Alfred R. Baudisch. If I’m the only one to sail out into the uncharted rural niche, I’ll face almost no competition. Certainly no direct competition. Another reader, Dana Wallert is doing this, calling it the Road Less Traveled.
Each author whose views I have butchered here will likely maintain that they have described the one and only right concept. So let’s find the one and only right concept for my liquor store. One of two in my small town. Cannot ship or deliver, by law. Permissible products and hours set by law. Must serve walk in customers only. So do you look at this as a long tail, in that I’m serving a very small town limited market with a finite customer group? Or do we consider it a world of its own, and can I be the number one just in my market? Should I try to become a purple cow in the blue ocean, so very different from all other stores that I draw customers from all over like tourists, like Wall Drug? Or do I follow Tom Peters and tear apart everything I know about the retail business to build an entirely new paradigm?
In other words, what do I do with all the books I’ve read and all the information I’ve gathered? Does it all synthesize in any meaningful way?
Yes, I’m happy to say it does. Each of these concepts has a common thread of innovation, customer service, and excellence. That isn’t news to any of us! Each concept offers more insight into human nature, markets, and business. No one concept can successfully apply to each and every enterprise. On the other hand, different people will take the same circumstances, apply the different concepts, and can all succeed!
Studying each of these contributes to and forms your personal and business philosophy. Jim Rohn says that what happens, happens to us all. What we do with those circumstances is due to the set of our sail, our philosophy. If you are not happy with your results to date, examine your philosophy.
Have you taken time to evaluate your personal beliefs and how they affect your results? Set about building a philosophy that helps you to achieve your goals and your life dreams by reading all the books, questioning and studying their philosophy. Add the best concepts to your own. Don’t settle for anything less.
Follow up for small town small biz
After thinking some more about how these concepts apply to small town small businesses, I’ve written a follow up, Be a Specialist or Be a Generalist.
- About the Author
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.