The Touch/Margin Matrix provides a North Star from an operational perspective of business nirvana: low-touch/high-margin. Emphasizing Purpose over Product (so long as that Purpose is bigger than yourself) provides a North Star from a competitive advantage standpoint: embracing your Purpose and being transparent about it will allow you to avoid the travails of a hyper-commoditized economy, and stand out even against competitors who are more experienced or capitalized.
These two filters — Touch/Margin and Purpose Not Product (PnP) — will take you a long way. Over time, your touch/margin will reach an equilibrium of either high-touch/high margin or low-touch/high margin. Both are great, and both are byproducts of the product/market fit that occurs when you are guided by a Purpose not Product approach, rather than a Product-centric one.
Still, the journey to this sweet spot can be torturous. If, at times in your entrepreneurial journey, you do not feel isolated and close to insane, you’re doing it wrong. As Carl Jung wrote: “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND ART
Entrepreneurship and art are about two things:
1. Being comfortable and confident on this heretofore uncleared path
2. Being a beacon for others looking for what you have found.
The first is almost better deconstructed: Entrepreneurship and art are about being uncomfortable when you find yourself on an already-cleared path. It doesn’t feel good to true entrepreneurs and artists; it (and you) feel lame. Artists and entrepreneurs get itchy when they feel others have been there before them; it’s like finding a Coke can at the top of a mountain peak you have just climbed.
The second isn’t as innately understood, but it’s just as true. That is, the job of the artist and entrepreneur is not simply to blaze the path for herself, but also to be a sort of Sherpa for others who — for whatever reason — can not get there without your help.
Framed in this light, a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial and artistic angst around product/market fit or finding an audience can be avoided.
I’ve long held that marketing can be distilled into the following conjunctive points:
1. Do something [remark]able
2. Put it in front of people pre-disposed to care
I bracket “remark” to highlight the importance of understand that, as the great Cluetrain taught us so many years ago: “Markets are Conversations.” Meaning: unless and until people begin telling others about you (i.e. have a high NPS) you can never succeed.
Fortunately, true artists and entrepreneurs who follow a Purpose not Product approach have remark-ability built in (shhhh....we all do). In theory, that’s the easy part. It’s not.
As humans we spend most of our lives attempting to comport ourselves into an image that we believe will please some other; parent, significant other, teacher, boss, etc. Similarly, imposter syndrome — or, as Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way puts it: Shadow Artists — causes far too many to be voyeurs rather than participants in their own life and on their own journey.
For either, the artist or entrepreneur is the teacher that emerges when these people most need them to help them out of this fugue state. This is the foundational precept of the GHS “Mirror.”
Viewed in this manner — that anything you do that is authentically Purpose Not Product driven — it’s actually number two above that is the more challenging element.
In my work, I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the ideas and creativity of those whom I get to teach or advise. Rarely, is the problem with their output or idea, and — when it is — it is usually fairly quickly remedied via polishing their Mirror so that they move away from Product and back to Purpose.
Instead, what I find most often is the unwillingness or inability to truly focus on the second prong: putting this Purpose driven (and thus axiomatically [remark]able work in front of those predisposed to care.
Markets and audiences are elusive when you attempt to quantify them from a Product-centric approach. Just like the child attempting to please their parent by contorting themselves into a version of themselves they believe will make them happy, artists and entrepreneurs do so as well...and the result is the same. Just like any half-decent parent wants of their children, customers want of their artists and entrepreneurs for them to exhibit their authentic, purpose-driven self. I promise you, most parents do not want their kids to grow up to be just like them any more than most consumers want a new piece of art or product that they already have/are familiar with.
And yet, artists and entrepreneurs continuously twist and turn themselves inside out trying to please / connect with some imaginary market, when, instead, they should be loudly putting their Purpose-driven work in front of numerous markets in order to see which needs them most.
The consequences of shaping your work to meet an imaginary audience is devastating. What happens is that the artist/entrepreneur comes to the conclusion that their output is “bad.” When this happens to artists it’s tragic; they stop creating.
Understanding this, it becomes crucially important to think in terms of Total Addressable Markets (TAMs) and the Most Passionate Percentile within them.
TOTAL ADDRESSABLE MARKETS AND THE MOST PASSIONATE PERCENTILE
Within any Total Addressable Market there will be a small subset who are aggressively on the lookout for something new; they are in pain/need. They are proactive in their search for this. Various thinkers call them different things: Mavens (Gladwell); Early Adopters (Rogers), etc. I prefer Most Passionate Percentile, because it implies that there are others within the TAM who are also passionate, but just not quite (yet) feeling the felt need that the MPP do.
Viewed in this way, it helps to understand the way in which ideas, art, etc. spread. The MPP will find you; all you have to do is be visible. Once they find you, they — and this is the most important point I can impart — not you will convert the rest of the TAM.
Moore refers to this as the chasm being crossed; that is — in his (and Rogers’) parlance, an idea, business, etc. moves from the early adopters to the early majority.
What is often overlooked about this trajectory is how it crosses the chasm. Moore articulates well the why — improving a customer’s life without forcing them to learn new skills, etc. — but what’s not imparted clearly enough is that it’s those in the MPP who do this converting of the others in the TAM.
This is the second GHS pillar: customer as teacher. When a member of the MPP discovers something that makes her feel better about herself, she can not not tell those others in the TAM.
What this means is that it’s not the job of the artists, entrepreneur or marketer to spread the message to the entire TAM; you will go broke/give up creating if you try.
Rather, your job is to emphatically put your Purpose-driven art/business into a TAM and look for signs that you’re reaching the MPP. If it ain’t happening, one of two things is going on: 1. Your work/product isn’t [remark]able. 2. You’re putting your work in front of the wrong people (TAM).
Curing the first is easy: recommit to your Purpose. Solving the second is trickier; it takes disabusing yourself of the concept of who you think will benefit from your work, and instead just allowing it to be presented cleanly.
This does not mean you should just flail; you must have a thesis of who your market is. But, you must not over-estimate your ability to define that market. You are wrong more than you think. Thus, the key is to double down on your Purpose and to be much more open to where your market is. Test and try in markets that you wouldn’t think would appreciate your work. You might be surprised. In our over-curated world, people (and, in particular those who tend to make up MPPs) now, more than ever, are looking for unexpected “collisions” and the thrill of something new.
That is your job.
George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc, the world’s largest independent record label, and cofounder of TuneCore, the world’s largest independent digital music distributor. He is also the cofounder of Music Audience Exchange, which comprises a team of digital marketers, engineers, and music lovers, using technology to redefine the fundamental structure of brand-artist relationships.
Mr. Howard is a professor of music business/management at Berklee College of Music, and the founder of GHS, a strategic consulting firm that advises a wide range of clients on how to integrate technology with strategy in order to increase brand awareness and revenue through innovation, social media, digital platforms, and strategic partnerships. A partial list of clients includes: Intel, National Public Radio, CVS Pharmacy, Alticor/Amway, Brown University, Paste Magazine, SpokenLayer, SingFit, The Landmark School, BigchainDB, Wolfgang’s Vault, and the Townsend Group. Howard is a sought-after expert witness who has drafted reports for and testified in many high-profile cases. He also is a columnist for Forbes, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times and many other publications.