As we carry on believing that we are inherently capable of reading the demand of the market or conversant in picking all the latest trends, here is a thought.
Do we really know what we like? Or is what we like a by-product of what other people like?
If history taught us anything, it is that we are really “clueless” in terms of predicting what people want and what will be popular. The Harry Potter book was turned down by 8 publishers before it managed one. The same fate happened to Star Wars, to The Beatles, to Xerox copy machine and many, many more. On the other hand, we confidently put our bet on winners which turn out to be colossal losses – New Coke to be a prime example.
If it was so simple as simply conducting a market study, asking people their preference and giving the market what they want – why do 80% of the new products fail? Why do movies that never get big budget or distributorship like, My Big Fat Greek Wedding become a phenomenon?
The answer my friend lies in the fact that in market research we ask each individuals what they like in isolation, without giving any reference to what other people like. But in reality what we REALLY like is what other people like. When everybody loves Titanic, we believe it must be a great movie. Hence Titanic became the most successful filom of all time. What we buy is based on what is currently in the Top 10 book or movie ranking. The doctor we choose is basically based on the recommendation of the others.
This phenomenon is called “Cumulative Advantage” or “Rich get richer” phenonmenon. To be put simple, we like to ride with the winners. So when everyone is buying something that is of course the winner and we choose to stick with it. If that is the case, if all we like is so much dependent on what others like, is it possible for conventional market research to work? Or even more importantly, can we actually predict trends or future?
So next time the answer of a question like, “Why did X succeed?” might be as simple as “Because millions of people bought it, thats why.” Nothing more, nothing less.