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Friday, February 11, 2011

Bowling – the great marketing metaphor


I hate flying. I find airplanes the stale air gives me headaches. As part of my job occasional business travel is a reality though.

Lately there is one part of flying that I do look forward to. My airline of choice has done a good with their entertainment options to make my time on planes a bit more enjoyable. On a recent flight home from a series of meetings on the west coast, I got settled in and browsed through their latest movie selection. I was excited to see The Social Network as one of the options. As a new parent, my wife and I don't get many opportunities to go to the movies so the backlog of movies I keep meaning to see is quite large. A little downtime in the air is a perfect chance to catch up on that list.

I'd read a lot of good reviews of the film and as a regular Facebook user I was quite intrigued as well.

The movie was great, my favourite part was probably the score done by Trent Reznor. In retrospect something else in the film stands out as well. The Social Network also showed as a great case study for one of the tenants from "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore.

The book has become one of the must reads for technology entrepreneurs. In it Moore describes how to grow your customer base from early adopters through to mainstream success with a great bowling analogy. Segmenting different niche markets or bowling pins and knocking them down one by one using adjacent markets as the catalyst to move on to new ones.

This process is described brilliantly in The Social Network and shows how Facebook went from early adopter success through to the $50B valuation company it is today.

The early adopters were Harvard students; they were both a local user base as well as a user base with the cachet of being members of Harvard's exclusive community. Exclusivity was their value proposition. The next bowling pin was Boston University, that market was both local (quite literally an adjacent market) and to move the plot forward also allowed Mark Zuckerberg to satisfy some personal spite J

From there the expansion was more strategic, Stanford had visionaries who could build a presence in the always connected world of Silicon Valley, and later Cambridge and other exclusive international schools became their early majority. Mission accomplished – 1 million users, chasm crossed. Brilliant selection of bowling pins knocked over with a defined strategy.

In the real world Facebook has over 500 million unique users and last I checked had a valuation of over $50B. I guess in bowling lingo they've really hit on a string of turkeys. (full disclosure, I don't really understand bowling lingo, but last time I went bowling I got a turkey for a string of strikes which I am very proud of)

Ultimately great products still need great market strategies, so maybe it's time to dust off the two tone shoes and start bowling…


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