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The Fool’s Gold Rush

Early adopters are frequently thought to be the leading edge of the next mammoth venture, inviting speculators and venture capitalists to whet their expectations for the next iPod/iPhone/Blackberry revolution. Yet, in many cases early adopters turn out to be the only segment that values the product or service and the venture stalls beyond this low-hanging fruit. This is probably not what a myriad of high-tech hopefuls want to hear right now. But I am not the voice of despondency. The dot.com meltdown did that already. I am saying that there is a way to eliminate the threat of over-promising and getting burned.

How does the over-promising come about? The goals-oriented marketer defines a market, measures performance based on test marketing (or early adoption) and extrapolates based on an exponent of the total market volume. Call this building Castles in the Air, based on a model built on the ground. We love to do it and dream of success delivered through incomparable genius. It’s exciting, and on paper it works for accountants as well as marketers. Take a business model, then maximize it to the power of ten or a hundred, or a thousand. Be as greedy as you dare. “Gee! If we only tap into 5% of the total market we’ll be gazillionaires. And our product is 25 times better than anything out there.”

How to avoid getting burned: The customer-centric marketer researches the values a customer has in regard to a particular product or service, and then defines the market potential according to those values.

Example: Grocery Gateway – goals-oriented approach: online order, home delivery, early adopter uptake is great, shows significant growth potential. All things being equal, 2 million shoppers in the GTA. Wow! Sink $30 million dollars into this and see where the rainbow ends.

Result: Grocery Gateway is now the private property of the Longo’s chain with 15,000 claimed customers and a constant viability issue how to make more money. Could be lots of reasons: logistics, costs, customer experience. The point is, when it launched, the world thought that Ship of Grocery Retail had embarked on a Dramatic New Course. Reality is that it is a niche segment for which the early adopters are probably still loyal customers. Plus $30 million invested. I think it is a good idea, but that all other regional online grocery delivery businesses are marginal players. Perhaps, one day, like the funeral home, school bus or waste management businesses some entrepreneur will buy each in turn and figure out an economy of scale to make a ton of money -– but on such thin margins I doubt it. More likely it will be the customer database that has more value than the retail business, and Longo’s that holds onto it.

Had the analysis been using a customer-centric methodology, the research would have come out differently, distinguishing between those who like to shop, those who don’t trust the Internet, those that are comparison shoppers, those whose strange work ethics prohibit ordinary shopping habits, those who are agoraphobes, insomniacs et al. And the answer might have been “You need $4 million” and there are only 15,000 potential customers for this service. $30 million for a GTA based distribution franchise sounds chunky to me. I think they were hoping for 150,000 customers – less than 10% of the market. Instead they have less than 1% of the market.

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Jon Sherrington

Owner, Strategist, Writer – Hydrogen Creative Inc.

May 1996 – Present

My role is to provide strategic marketing guidance to clients to ensure their objectives are attainable, remain in focus and the communications solutions work.

My expertise is in how to realign goals-oriented brands, products, services or businesses to customer values to build loyalty, frequency and continuity.