Depending on his area of expertise, an enthusiast cares about the answers to the following questions:
"Paddle shift or stick?"
"SACD or DVD-A?"
"Cherrywood or carbon fiber?"
"Pho Bac or Pho Bang?"
"PowerBook or iBook?"
"Hearthstone or parchment paper?"
"Habenero or chipotle?"
"Linen or organic cotton?"
I'm an ethusiast. As you may have guessed, I am every marketer's dream. I am an enthusiast in not just one, but a bunch of areas. I get magazines with names like The Rosengarten Report and catalogs from Garrett Wade.
Enthusiasts are the ones with otaku. We're the ones who care about what marketers are up to. The ones who seek out new products and new corporations, the ones who go oops, sorry, another enthusiastic topic jumped in there Anyway, we are the ones that will spread the word about your innovation, tell our friends and colleagues about your new Purple Cow.
It's not just consumer goods. Enthusiasts read the Harvard Business Review and get excited about a new consulting firm or a new technique. Enthusiasts read the classifieds at the back of Advertising Age to figure out which ad agencies are doing well. Enthusiasts decide who gets elected President of the United States.
Plenty of marketers have decided that they need to be obsessed with these otaku-filled piggybanks. Some of them have even rented, or better yet, collected lists of the most profitable subsets of these populations. And yet, most of them fail.
I think they fail for the very same reason you often fail in getting the enthusiast in your life the perfect Christmas gift.
Enthusiasts don't want you to hand them a gift certificate. (They'll figure out how to get the money for the thing they really want). Nor do they want you to give them a gift and say, "the man at the store said you'd like this." While you may satisfy our short-term craving for more, you also remind us (the enthusiasts) that you're not on the bus.
Enthusiasts are ENTHUSIASTIC! This means we want to spread the word. It means we want other people to "get it" as well. We want the organizations we buy from to be one of us, to care as much as we do about the experience and the products and the process. We want our friends and fans not just to buy us a stick-shift warmer for the Ferrari, but to research it first, to compare the different warmers, to understand the trade-offs and make the same (obvious) choice that we would.
When you take a chowhound to dinner (that's what cheap but authentic restaurant enthusiasts call themselves), she wants to know that you care as deeply as she does about the choice not that you picked the closest one listed in Zagats. When you make a product designed for a videophile, he wants to know that you've spent as many hours staring at the flat screen as he does.
Visit Steve Deckert's site at Decware and you'll have no doubt that he's one of you (one of us?). It's different than buying from some invisible technology conglomerate. That's one reason it's so easy for little companies like this to do just great with the early adopters with otaku. We buy from him because he's like us. He's an enthusiast too.
So, what should you do if you want to sell to an enthusiast? Or buy a Christmas present for an enthusiast? She's not going to make allowances for low price or great service or kindness. She's going to be picky. She's going to be aware of the tradeoffs. And she's not going to go easy on you. If she did, she wouldn't be an enthusiast, would she?
What you'll need to do, I'm afraid, is become one. If it's important to you to deal with people with otaku, you've got to get some. Sad, but true.
SACD or DVD-A?