Selling commodities sucks.
An undifferentiated product is a commodity: a gallon of gas is a gallon of gas is a gallon of gas.
The typical way to make money selling a commodity is to compete on price, but that is indefensible; there are no significant barriers to competitive forces causing a price war that drives your margins to zero.
Or in short, selling commodities really sucks.
A better strategy is to make a product that is differentiated by inherent properties that make it more valuable. That’s a “duh” comment, but here is your problem:
You might be great, but so is everyone else.
This matters to us because it’s not enough to have a great website anymore.
1. Everything is a commodity
As our world continues to improve in all industries, on all products that satisfy all needs — as we asymptote toward perfection (yes, I just went all singularity on your ass) — everything looks more and more like a commodity.
As quality improves it becomes more uniform.
The best strategy is still to be the best, but how exactly do you do that when everyone else is so damn awesome?
Most marketers say, “tell a different story.” That’s right, but just having the story isn’t enough:
How do you get people to listen to your story?
2. Getting attention is a cost
The only websites that matter are the ones you know about. You can’t visit a website that hasn’t been linked to.
To have a website that matters, some of your time or money has to be spent to get attention. It’s a cost of doing business.
Being able to direct attention is therefore something that can be sold by the people who own the media by which people consume information.
That’s why advertisements on other websites will get you traffic. It’s easy to buy this attention, you just need money. Unfortunately, as soon as you stop paying, the traffic stops.
3. Dominate attention in a vertical monopoly
Since attention is a cost, the media owners you advertise with are your suppliers. You should squeeze these folks out of your supply chain to create a vertical monopoly.
The more every website looks the same, the more it matters who can get the most attention; the more attention matters, the more valuable it becomes to be able to influence people.
The opportunity is that attention is getting both more valuable and more available.
4. The opportunity is huge
We are participating in a massive shakeup of influence, and it’s happening fast.
The media industry has been breaking down over the last decade because of the democratization of attention. Blogs, social networks, and review sites are all examples of a trend toward fragmentation. It’s about word of mouth.
That isn’t the remarkable part of the story.
The remarkable thing is how little has changed so far, not how much. You only missed the beginning.
5. The opportunity is unique
Today, the barrier to entry is so low that you don’t have to specialize; you can use influence and authority toward other ends besides packaging and reselling it.
You can build it into your product.
Gary Vaynerchuk calls this the personal brand gold rush.
I’m a huge fan (and neighbor) of Gary’s. He was doing well for himself as the owner of The Wine Library, a wine retailer. Then he started Wine Library TV, turned himself into a media mogul, and started minting cash for his business.
The cost of becoming a media mogul? Pure energy.
6. Welcome to the 21st century gold rush
If you listen to Gary talk about the personal brand gold rush, you’ll hear him reassure you that the path doesn’t always look obvious. He says you need to start going and figure out the details later.
If this looked like a sure thing and the formula for success were obvious, the opportunity wouldn’t be there.
Nobody can tell you how this will pan out; that’s why it’s a gold rush. The only sure bet is that you can’t win if you don’t play.
7. It’s about respect
When I wrote about how to blog, I noted that one of the reasons I blog is to build a podium: “This blog puts me in a position to direct attention — human attention and search engine attention — to things that matter to me … this is the 21st century gold rush.”
The way we consume information is changing. We used to visit a website because Yahoo listed it prominently in its directory. As someone who wanted to spread a message (“visit my website!”), you had to go to influentials and buy a share of attention.
Now, we visit the websites that Google (and Yahoo) recommends as having the most word of mouth, or the ones we hear about directly from the people we respect.
You have to become a respected voice, or be ready to pay an attention tax to those who are for the next quarter century. They might be your competitors.
Here’s what you can do today:
- Figure out where your area of opportunity is
- Start blogging, recording videos, producing content in that area
- Interact with the other people who care
You don’t have to figure everything out right now. It doesn’t have to make perfect sense. You don’t need a framework to follow — just make yourself worth caring about.
Sometimes the best web strategy is to close your eyes and jump.