Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hit Makers

The title gets attention, but the subtitle gives a more accurate idea of what the book is all about.  "The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction."  If you are not trying to generate a "hit" of some sort you are likely marveling at someone who has accomplished the goal.  Whether or not, most of us are part of the  dynamics.  This book has a lot of meat to digest.

To have a big hit one thinks quality is the most important factor, but in reality quality is desirable, but insufficient.  There are songs (etc) that you would like better than what you listen to now, but somehow they are hidden from view.

In the beginnings of history people communicated in small groups and had little contact with outsiders.  As people organized ideas could reach larger groups of people.  One of Derek's examples was a Brahm's lullaby that initially was not written for the public, but over time it spread including to his mother across oceans.

Raymond Loewy was an important industrial designer who wondered what people really wanted.  He made a point of studying consumer habits instead of merely looking to design a more efficient product.  Some of his concrete results were improvements to Gestetner machines and the Cold Spot Refrigerator and some corporate logos.  He concluded that people felt comfortable with something familiar, but were attracted to something a little newer.  He coined an acronym, MAYA which stands for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.  I used to write newsletters on a Gestetner machine.

Humans can be divided into those who fear new things (neo phobes) and those who love new things (neo philiacs) and a third group, neophiles who adapt easily and are fascinated by new things.  Of course it depends on the issue--more people probably fear new things at work than they do with their hobbies.  In other words there is a little bit of each in every individual, but most of us are dominated by one or the other.  The trick to making a hit is to get a good balance between the familiar and the new.  Read more at:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/08/new-understanding-our-need-for-novelty.html

Derek gives several examples throughout the book how familiarity is critical and how repetition helps in the process.  Rats apparently can be habituated to a repeated sound, but a slight variation gets added attention.  We aren't that different.

We hear the expression "viral" used to explain a rapid increase in interest for a particular item.  It was what wanna be hit makers strive for.  Derek challenges this concept.  "Viral" comes from the study of diseases spreading which is one person contaminates another and that person contaminates another and it spreads to a wider part of the population.  Instead Derek points out that most so called viral escapades happen only when an item reaches a wider distribution network such as Justin Bieber

Homophily, a new word for me simply means that people like to be like those surrounding them. Although perfectly normal it does have some unhealthy consequences.  Although there are more three year olds who are not white over 75% of whites cannot identify one minority friend.

To summarize the key to hits is to have an effective distribution network.  Of course you have to have something that would appeal to large numbers of people.  Derek offers two examples to close his book.

Walt Disney built up a following slowly back in the 1920's but when Kay Kamen (born Herman Samuel Kominetzky) got a look at Mickey Mouse he was excited and traveled to California to talk to Mr Disney.  His business was merchandising toys and other momentos from movies.  He convinced Walt to get involved with merchandising and took them from $300,000 sales in 1930 to $35 million in 1935 in the middle of the Depression.   Furthermore the merchandise actually helped boost the movies, including helping to finance his big breakthrough with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The idea spread to launch into a television program and amusement parks at the same time.  ABC helped finance the first Disneyland and then decided they wanted out.  Big mistake.  The Walt Disney Empire gets revenue from a variety of sources that all reinforce one another.  A movie is sure to be a hit while also generating revenues from merchandise, television and visits to their parks all of which help finance the next hit.  Each part supports the other parts.

To balance off his book, Derek gives the example of Ryan Leslie who you might not have heard of.  Ryan was a very precocious young man who proved himself in a number of platforms, but did not want to get tangled up with labels when he became a rapper.  He dropped his label and set up a network where fans buy directly from him (at a premium) and he invites them to events.  He is not fabulously wealthy, but he makes very good money and retains his freedom.  His secret (other than offering quality) is he has a network that includes the likes of Kanye West and other prominent rappers.   He has control of this network which is all computerized.  He could and might opt to hit the mainstream, but is happy avoiding some of the problems.

Hit Makers are part of your life.  Most of us don't  come up with hits, but most of us enjoy them.  You can watch a 50 minute presentation by Derek Thompson explaining the book and a few things that happened afterwards (such as Donald Trump's election).  Click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9KW3GtWm30

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