Consumer is a game of angles
There’s the old adage, there are no new behaviors — just new ways to express, act on, and fulfill core human needs and wants.
I think of needs and wants as the human highway. The stronger and more consistent the need (food, shelter, physical & social connection), the larger and more densely packed the highway is….continuously going…a sea of red. Try to picture LA traffic the day before Thanksgiving.
A whimsical or passing want may be the ol’ one-lane route 56 crossing a countryside with a few passing cars.
Those that build new successful ‘consumer’ (social, CPG, fashion, etc) products don’t create highways for you. They don’t create a need to press on the accelerator, it’s already there.
What they do is provide you an on-ramp to another highway where you may be able to go faster, switch lanes more aggressively, use a different kind of vehicle, or get into someone else’s car. The on-ramp has to merge and meet you where you already are. It is not an intersection where you come to a stop sign and make a 90 degree right turn. ⬆️➡️
When I think of consumer as a game of angles, I observe the most successful apps, services, and destinations providing that slick on-ramp. After merging you get to do more of what you’ve always done or maybe do something that no other highway fully supported and encouraged.
Was the human highway for sex, companionship, and serious partners non-existent before Tinder? Of course not. It’s been LA’s 101 since the beginning of time.
Was the human highway of expressing yourself creatively and having multiple selves amongst distinct groups of people non-existent before Snap?
This sounds all well and good but two simple examples may make this more actionable and observable.
In my opinion, there is a clear tell for who is trying to make the special highway you can seamlessly merge onto and for who is trying to make you come to a complete stop with a right hand turn.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if ____” 🛑
When someone describes their product vision this way, I get wary of what’s to come. Wouldn’t it be nice is a line for public intellectuals, business school professors who’ve never run a business, and starry-eyed artists lacking a connection to near-midterm realities. Every reasonable idea sounds great in isolation. They can’t (or are deciding in this instance not to) map the intersection human highways, incentive structures, and business fundamentals.
Of course I’d like to get that delivered to here, have everyone sharing that piece of information, and all companies coming together to do this. But that’s not how it works. It’s easy to imagine the end-state, but not what deliberate steps through the idea maze could potentially take you there.
“It’s just ____”
On the other hand, when I hear a user, non-user, or current customer describe a product as being “it’s just ____” my ears perk up. There’s a reason they are a user or customer of said product and not the other dozen options they could have hired to do the job for them. It also serves as an interesting signal that someone is actually understanding the simple or creative angle a new challenger is taking without fully realizing it could be a wedge into something much more. That commentary serves as a nice signal for the cliche; “the next big thing will start out looking like a toy”.
It’s just ___ but with a better design. It’s just ____ but simpler. It’s just like ____ but instead of this ___ they do that ___. It’s just ___ for mobile.
Slack, oh, it’s just IRC with a better interface. Discord…it’s just slack but with voice capabilities. This twatter thing, just a way to send small snippets of text describing what you had for lunch. It’s just an app that allows you to send disappearing photos. It’s just a fun way to see where your friends are in the city. It’s just a way to buy cheap things online. It’s just a quick way to buy stocks for free.
Sometimes just, is all it takes.