The Small Pond | Software Branding

A fishing analogy detailing why a focused user base is a good idea.

February 4, 2021

Fishing in a small pond with no other boats around where the fish practically leap into your boat is better than fishing in the ocean. 

Let's expand that analogy. Why would it be better? A couple reasons off the top of my head:

- Accurate bait/lure rigs
- Less competition from other fishermen
- Higher chance of contact
- No sharks or other things you don't want to catch
- Plenty of fish to keep you busy

In short, picking a small pond positions a fisherman to be successful.

The same is true of software brands and there is a marketing term for it known as positioning.

Positioning is a framework that was laid out by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book bearing the same title. Without getting too far into the weeds, the premise is that the top three companies in a market category are the big players and that everything else is fighting over scraps. You are either known for something or you are struggling to make ends meet. 

Back to the fishing analogy, because it alludes to the foundational piece of building a strong position within a market: choosing a small pond. 

The pond in this case becomes the market category, choose one that is too big and your chances of success diminish. For example, accounting software is too big, unless you plan on competing with multi-billion dollar companies like QuickBooks. However, a scaled-down, specified pond could help here. Something like Accounting software for designers, a messaging app for lawyers, or a security app for watching your dog (thank you Furbo). By choosing a smaller niche, you can gain an advantage over the big brands trying to serve everyone.

Here's why: 

Accurate bait/lure rigs:
This would be the same as good marketing and offerings. If you know your fish, you don't have to guess what they might want, you know. Designers want the ability to brand things like invoices and change the typefaces. A lawyer doesn't care about that as much, but it means the world to a designer. Conversely a designer doesn't need a robust amount of security in communicating with their clients, but a lawyer does. And a typical homeowner doesn't have a dog that would love to be rewarded a treat for being a good pet, but a dog owner would be thrilled!

Point being, you can provide things that make you irreplaceable if you know what the customer wants.

Less competition from other fishermen:
If you create something that is adored by a specific group of people, its hard for them to choose anything else. It's like getting a shirt made specifically to your sizing compared to something off the shelf. The same principle would apply to software, there is no substitute for something that feels like it was made for you. 

Higher chance of contact:
If you stick in the pond long enough it's guaranteed something will happen eventually. Can't say the same about the ocean. 

No sharks or other things you don't want to catch:
Bass fishermen don't want catfish. Tuna fishermen don't want reef sharks. Crab fishermen don't want anything other than crab. Why? Because they're aren't built for managing them. Knowing your pond allows you to have customers that will give you good reviews and use your product the way it was intended. It lays a good foundation for them to refer others to you and grow your user base.

Plenty of fish to keep you busy:
A common objection to positioning narrowly is that one might get bored or doesn't want to limit their user base. Mainly because they believe the market isn't big enough. The truth, if you can be highly profitable and grow a large group of folks who can't get enough of your product. Chances are, if there is 5,000 people on this planet filled with 8 billion, you can generate a solid amount of revenue for a $20 per month subscription (that's $100,000 MRR).

Furthermore, you will always find new needs this group wants, ways to help them out, and you can always scale up (far harder to go the opposite way).

Pick a small pond.

More you say?

Known by Its Counterpart

Sometimes the only way to see the right way is by understanding the opposite.

4.22.2020

I normally work from home and, for the most part, it's pretty easy for me to get into a groove. But there are some days, especially during the COVID-19 quarantining, that make it difficult.

Specifically because the elements of my routine are barred. New floors are being installed in my house so there are quite a few construction workers here playing music, hammering in pieces of flooring, and moving around. My desk is in pieces and all of the furniture is scattered. Even the garage where I normally do workouts in the morning is unavailable.

In short, I'm in a massive deviation from my routine and it is taking a toll on my effectiveness. But, there is a silver lining in that it has never been more obvious the kind of routine I need to function at my peak.

What does this have to do with branding? Well, you can understand what you want for your brand by understanding what you don't want. By cross-examining your competitors, other brands, or even something as granular as aesthetic, sometimes the fastest way to understand what you want to become is to discover the opposite.

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"Do You Like it?" is a Stupid Question

And you should use this method instead.

5.7.2020

When doing design work, it's important to get feedback. However, the kind of feedback you get will make all the difference. Without beating around the bush, getting feedback that is entirely subjective is gonna end poorly, especially if you're trying to be different. The key is to be objective.

For example, when designing logos for clients, a client will often ask someone close to them: "which one do you like?"

Chances are, the respondent won't like any of them (for irrelevant reasons) or they mask the truth out of fear for hurting someone else's feelings. Either way, the feedback to this question is shit. Always.

Instead you have to think about the goals you are looking to achieve, such as aligning something like a logo to your brand. The best way to do this is what I like to call the binary method. If you know what you want someone to feel when they look at your company, then you can also define the opposite. If you want someone to feel edgy, modern, and sleek (you should define these in your own words, mind you) then the opposite of your goal would be to have them feel safe, nostalgic, and rough.

At this point you can ask, "does this feel more modern or nostalgic?"

Following up with "what makes you feel that way?" since the reasons might be extremely personal. Granted, a logo needs to be contextualized with other branded elements to get feedback on something like its alignment to the brand.

This goes far with getting valuable feedback that you can actual improve from and makes subjectivity less prevalent. Regardless of what design project you're working on, knowing what your goal is and the ability to articulate the opposite gives you framework for getting concrete answers.

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