Don’t be afraid to polarize people. Most companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to do so guarantees mediocrity.”

– Guy Kawasaki

And I think Guy Kawasaki is absolutely right, choose focus over breadth is absolutely the right approach to take for most startups. That being said, I think there’s also something incredibly dangerous about this sort of view. The problem is, there’s an easy way to be polarizing that doesn’t work and a hard way to be polarizing that does work. They look similar enough from the outside that most people take the easy way and then blame the system for their failure.

By saying you’re only going to appeal to a certain group of people, you give yourself permission and latitude to say no a lot. No, we’re not going to build this feature because the market we’re targeting doesn’t think it’s important. No, we’re not going to change our message because our message appeals to our target market. And, if you disagree, well… you’re not the person we’re going after.

No can be an incredibly powerful tool but it can also be a dangerous one when it shellacs your from criticism. The easy way of being polarizing is to just arbitrarily decide your target market based on what you wish your target market could be and then act all defiant and proud about how polarizing you are.

The right way to be polarizing is to match the freedom to say no with the constraint over when it can be said. You don’t get permission to say no until you are able to say yes. Yes, this is the exact market we are targeting. Yes, we have a deep understanding of how they think, decide and act. Yes, we have a channel through which we are regularly receiving feedback which we take seriously. Unless you can succinctly and explain what your target market is and why they appreciate your product, you’re not being polarizing, you’re just giving yourself permission to swear a lot and draw whales on your website.

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  1. On Designing for a Niche | Kill Ten Rats says:

    May 12th, 2009 at 4:03 pm (#)

    […] … Unless you can succinctly and explain what your target market is and why they appreciate your product, you’re not being polarizing, you’re just giving yourself permission to swear a lot and draw whales on your website. – Xianhang Zhang […]

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