Aside: the changethis.com website was started by a few interns and me several summers ago. And we got caught in a Dip. Not because the site isn't great (I think it stands up to this day) or that it isn't a great idea (we broke books like Blink and Freakonomics and Guy Kawasaki's Art of the Start) but because we didn't push hard enough after we'd done all the 'hard' work. The folks at CEO READ are doing a great job of stewardship and the site continues to grow, but that Dip--becoming the most popular way to distribute short manifestos--still looms.
I visited the world's first Starbucks today (there are more than 12,000 of them now). It's a little surreal, because you can see the original elements still poking out from under the splashy current veneer. The best part of the visit, though, wasn't the really cool people that worked there... it was seeing the stores that are just down the street. There were two or three other coffee shops, a juice bar, a french bakery, a scone shop and a pierogie stand. Any one of them (well, except for maybe the pierogies) could have become Starbucks. But didn't.
Because of the Dip. Howard Schultz took a really good (but my no means unique) coffee shop and pushed it through a Dip that got it to 100 stores. That Dip eludes almost every small businessperson. It's too scary. The end of the tunnel is just a little bit too far away, a little too intimidating. So most people don't try.
This intimidation is exactly why getting through the Dip is so valuable. Starbucks succeeds largely because they're Starbucks. Ubiquity is their friend. If everyone could be ubiquitous, it wouldn't be worth anything at all.
If you read a lot of literary fiction, probably not. If you read a lot of thrillers, even then, probably not the best you've ever read. But if you are a marketer measuring return on investment, then sure, it was better than good. It was fantastic. One of the bestselling books of the last twenty years...
The Dip that Dan Brown got through had not a lot to do with some objective measure of the quality of his work and everything to do with good fortune, hard work, excellent timing and the power of the right ideavirus. The short version: The DaVinci Code was popular because it was popular.
The last 75% of its sales were made to people who never ever buy books. They bought it because 'everyone else was buying it.'
I don't believe that this is a Dip you can easily seek out or set yourself up for. But I think it's a fascinating lesson in the power of being the best in the world. There is a pot of gold at the end of most rainbows, except most people never get there. The mistake, of course, is to believe that following the path of the person that went before is the way to get through this Dip. It doesn't work that way when it comes to culture. Just like old jokes, what worked yesterday probably isn't going to work tomorrow.
Pop hits work precisely because they are hits. And marketers can work hard to create an environment where the book or movie or song or restaurant they create moves through the most challenging part of the Dip... the gulf between the organic, natural audience for a product and the much bigger, hyper-excited pop audience.