I’ve been thinking about “the middle” lately. Not the TV show – though I do enjoy that on the occasions I am able to watch it – but rather that average space in which too many organizations tend to find themselves. A place where it is very difficult to truly stand out and have an impact.
I often make the point when talking about the Value Ramp that too many organizations have a lot of “stuff” in the middle of the ramp and don’t do nearly enough on either end. And they are feeling it in the attrition of sales and members.
In any case, with this type of thinking bouncing around in my mind I stumbled across a piece from one of my old newsletters and – even after a gap of a few years – it still resonated with me. I decided to replay it here in the hopes that it will resonate with you as well. Here you go:
Stuck in the Middle?
In the last issue of the newsletter, I wrote about the concept of blue ocean strategy as it applies to social media. The idea was that most organizations that embrace social media do so with a “keep up with the Jones” attitude. Social media doesn’t create a strategic differentiator, it merely keeps them running with the pack, stuck in the middle of an amorphous, competitive crowd.
Social media is not the only place this happens, of course. Organizations and individuals get “stuck in the middle” in any number of ways.
The Marketing Over Coffee guys pointed out in a recent podcast that most Web projects are heavy on the middle layer of developing and deploying – “We really need that new Web site ASAP!” – but very light on actual strategy at the beginning or collection and effective use of analytical data once a site is deployed. (I can testify to the accuracy of the MoC guys on this.)
James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, points out in a recent issue of the New Yorker, that companies staking out the high end of the market – like Apple, among computer makers – or the low end – like Flip,* among video camera makers – are much more successful these days because “they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market.” (via http://bokardo.com/archives/apple-the-new-yorker/)
As Seth Godin, in his inimitable style, suggests in the quote for this month, the middle is a dangerous place to be. The main problem, as I see it, is that the middle is getting thinner, and thinner. Demand for our run-of-the mill needs has not really gone up, but our ability to find supply has – and how. Think back to your economics 101 course in college, and you will realize why this is a significant problem.
The edges appear to be where the clearest, lowest friction, and ultimately, largest opportunities are right now. If you are going to stay in the middle – with the average Web site, the average product and pricing, the average member services – you better have the resources to stick it out until everyone else drops.
* Yes, I recognize that Flip is now gone, but its disappearance supports my point – and Surowiecki’s: with the explosion in smart phone video capabilities, the “low end” of the market gotten a lot lower, and Flip was essentially stuck in the middle.
P.S. – Learning Revolutionaries, of course, do not get stuck in the middle. They read Learning the Learning Revolution: The Expert’s Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market and go on to become the leading sources for education and learning in their markets.