going up market

AOL.jpgI don’t know about you but back in the day, I must have thrown away hundreds of those free signup disks for AOL. Call it techno-arrogance but there was no way I was going to use AOL when I could just sign up with a local ISP. And besides AOL was simply lame. Who on Earth would ever sign up for this sort of junk?

While I know I’m not there as often as my mom I have to admit to shopping at Wal*Mart at least two times a week. There’s now one about a mile from our house and it’s open 24 hours. We buy the normal stuff and I’ve even bought socks and t-shirts there – but I haven’t resorted to buying clothes for myself but have in the past for our children.

And of course what sort of nut would trust mail-order for something that cost more than $1,000? Would people actually buy a computer through the mail having never seen or touched the thing? We’ve owned three and I’ve used one on and off at work for the past ten or so years and of course I’m talking about Dell Computer.

What do these three things have in common? In most peoples’ eyes the consumers of these products are “down market” – or more politically correct “value customers.” I don’t have to remind you that all of these cases these are hugely successful markets: AOL and the iconic merger with Big Media TimeWarner; Wal*Mart is the most successful retailer in history; and yes, Dell is arguably the most successful personal computer company.

Having spent most of my career in an industry that has rewritten the book on “more for less”, why would I be writing about those down marketer types? Because it’s where you’ll find the customers. I’m not thinking of these folks as oversimplified cheapskates, I’m talking about delivering a product that’s easy to use, easy to buy and therefore easy to sell to the mass market. Not something that only the brilliant, beautiful people that read my blog understand, but real people.

As a colleague at work put it: “Let’s go with less for less.” People like cheap prices and I would argue they love even more things that are simple. Pop in the disk and that complicated internet POP/SMTP mail is as simply as “You’ve got Mail!”. Stop one place and buy just about anything a typical household might normally need for rock bottom prices and while your at it skip the trip to intimidating computer store and shop a catalog.

While we keep building more for less we’re missing out on the mainstream who simply want less for less. Some might look at this as going down market but I see it as up. Up market in the sense of the numbers of customers and longer term growth for companies.