You would be hard pressed to go through a day in your life without bumping into statistics. Most products and companies you interact with are built because those companies are very good at figuring out what works for most people. Apple discontinues iPhone sizes because most people don’t want the small one.
But at some point we will be outliers within the realm of a given statistical model. Maybe you’re a size 15 shoe or you really like the idea of having a smaller iPhone. It’s at these times when we might feel frustrated. It’s hard to find shoes when you’re a size 15, especially if you live somewhere that people have statistically smaller feet. You’re stuck if they discontinue the phone that’s right for you because you have small hands.
At exactly these times, feeling seen is important. It creates the differentiation that we love about a product, a service, or a community. It gives people a chance with big feet or small hands a chance to get something that feels like its just for them. They probably tell their friends about how great it is too.
The catch is that as companies attract people by differentiation, they start to grow. If growth is a company goal, they need to tailor their offering to more and more people. More and more people who are less likely to have big feet or small hands.
Because as the company grows, they have to start making shoes in more sizes. This makes sense (because you can only sell so many size 15 shoes), and causes internal trade-offs. Designing those new shoes, marketing them, distributing them, providing customer service for them – all of this eats up resources that may at a previous point have been available for big-feet shoes.
And so the target market become outliers, and become dissatisfied, maybe moving on to a new differentiator or accepting something that is pretty good, instead of great. Certainly not telling their friends about it.
Who wins in this scenario? Probably not the people with big feet. Also probably not the people with “normal” sized feet because let’s face it, the new shoes aren’t for them either, they’re for everyone – just wearable enough by the most people possible. The company may win for a period, at least until new differentiators crop up and eat into market share.
The more growth-oriented the current players are, the more opportunity we have to create something that starts out as differentiated. But trying to balance differentiation while growing fast is the rub. It requires remembering that statistics aren’t the same as individuals, and that more growth isn’t the same as product-market fit.