You are an entrepreneur, or aspire to be one. And, over and you, you hear three mantras for success in our digital world: Make the best product you can. Maintain focus. Track your competitors closely, and mimic what they do when they succeed.
But, in fact, you need to think again. Why? Because Following these mantras is precisely why many companies fail.
Two challenges face nearly every business today: getting noticed and getting paid. These challenges aren’t new, but they are amplified when product clutter is abundant and ownership rights are hard to establish — in short, the very things that happen in the digital world.
Media and entertainment companies have faced these challenges longer than most other businesses, but all will face them in the end; therefore, it’s essential to learn from their experiences. And those lessons are clear: Success comes not from focusing on products, or “content” — companies actually need to be wary of that trap. Success comes from creating and fostering connections.
As I describe in The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change, three types of connections are key.
1. User connections: Create to connect.
Create a product that’s good, and you may draw in consumers. Connect users to one another, and you can beat a superior product. Thirty years ago, Apple made a beautiful machine to compete against personal computers — and ended up with less than 3 percent of global market share. Reviewers raved about the Macintosh, but users bought PCs because those computers let them connect with other users. It was only when Apple began to think in terms of connections that its fortunes changed.
The possibility of the “best” product losing is particularly strong in networked markets. In video, VHS beat Betamax; in games, success increasingly comes not from making the games perfect but from making them social. And consider the Norwegian firm Schibsted, a newspaper company that managed one of the most successful online transitions in the media world. Its success came not from posting great content online but from capitalizing on the winner-take-all dynamic in classifieds, a product that connects buyers and sellers.
Some two trillion dollars of market value has been created by a handful of digital giants. Their success in most cases came from connecting users. And, to the chagrin of traditional media firms, nearly every one of those companies is playing an increasing role in content.
So, the message is: Don’t just create; create to connect.