I recently became aware of a design business called Smart Design, via the Tim Ferris podcast. They appear in the documentary Objectified, where they can be seen explaining one of the early steps in their innovation process.
In an opening client exchange that will chime with those in most creative industries, the agency is given a picture of a typical consumer for the brand, an average of all the people who buy/share/talk about/love the product that they sell
Smart Design's response to this is well, er, smart.
“We listen politely and say, ‘well, that’s great, but we don’t care about that person.’”
“What we really need to do, to design, is look at the extremes. Look for the weakest, or the person with arthritis, or the athlete, or the strongest, or the fastest person - because if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself. “
The idea that we design solutions – in our case, compelling communications or unforgettable experiences - for those that aren’t our core customers will strike most cost-conscious clients as a risky use of marketing money, but there is merit in being bold.
Communications should be arresting, should be shocking, should elicit an emotional reaction, no matter how little.
And often, a process that encourages a regression to the mean stunts this.
It pushes out the outliers, the crazy ideas, the new.
It keeps everything safe, but that’s not where the change happens.
It’s not where Gorillas play drums or where bankers strut.
It's not where you talk to an ice hockey puck-shaped AI device and it plays your favourite playlist whilst ordering in a takeaway.
It’s where the behaviours and tastes of the majority inform most of the decisions.
I’m not suggesting that every brand goes punk.
But in a world where there’s a shit load of stuff already in existence, creators have a responsibility to create something new, and something valuable.
And that might come from the fringes of your business, rather than the core.
The edges, that’s where the magic is happening.
Appealing to the middle to retain customers kills a brand in the long-term, it stunts its growth, makes ‘middling’ an ambition and rewards safety-first in a world where perpetual change makes victors out of the bold.
None of the breakthrough product designs of the past 20 years played to the middle.
None of the memorable communications work that truly worked played to the middle.
So maybe we should look to start appealing to the few rather than the many, and see where that gets us.