Software is the New Black

Software is the New Black

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by Justin Schier, Chief Creative Officer, Dopamine Inc.

One day you’re in, the next you’re uninstalled – or even worse, forgotten. The number of apps, services, social media sites and games competing for our attention has never been greater. How can the average person keep track of it all?

The real question is: does it even matter?

It seems like everybody and their fifteen-year-old nephew has a startup or three these days, introducing some astonishing new way of doing something you didn’t even know was possible every week. Conferences like South-by-Southwest (SXSW), which happened recently in Austin TX bring together the brightest minds in the pan-tech-interactive-web-app-startup space to show off what they’ve done and learn from others.

But as more and more entrepreneurs are seeking to rush out the next-coolest-thing, the software landscape is beginning to resemble the fashion business. SXSW has become the equivalent of the Paris runway show. Apps that were hot last year either need to innovate something amazing this year, or get out of the way. That is – for the 5% of people who put in the effort to stay on top of it.

What about the other 95% who are still very content with using Facebook and Internet Explorer 8? This is the GP – the General Public, and they’re also the Market, capital M. Most startups and software innovators are in the game for profit after all the wow factor fades away. For better or worse, the General Public shops at The Gap, not Gucci. Costco, not Chanel.

Fashion has always been about a small, insular group of tastemakers who must constantly update their designs. The end product is design for the benefit of other designers. Likewise, the newest apps really only excite other app designers at first, until a viable business model can be proven.

Both successful software and successful fashion bridge the gap in three ways: the cool/sexy factor, the fun factor, and the utility factor. These are powerful weapons when wielded skillfully, and successful brands are experts in their use. As important as they are, they still only describe the product itself, and can’t fully explain massive success.

There is a fourth factor that mega-brands have mastered: relevance. Google, Facebook and Apple have all been able to relate their products to the General Public to the point of being indispensable. Yes these companies have huge footprints now, but all started with a focus on building something amazing that was truly relevant to the General Public.

Google releases heavily tested weekly updates to their search engine that each try to eek out just a bit more relevance. In the same fashion, Isaac Mizrahi lost money for 25 years until he figured out the money was at Target and not on 5th Ave.

So what’s the moral of this story? For one thing, just having a cool factor, or just having a fun factor isn’t enough even if your app does something that no other software does. They may cause initial excitement, but enthusiasm will fade fast. Do the hard work. Be awesome. Listen to your customers, then listen some more. Find real ways to relate to the General Public. Only then will you transcend the one-day-you’re-in-and-the-next-day-you’re-out cycle.

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