If you're gonna win, you gotta diverge.
This is a golden age for bootstrapped brands.
Seismic shifts in technology, information access, and consumer habits mean anyone can start a thriving business from their laptop. You can take payments, source products, and find ideal customers without big capital or connections.
These things would have been moonshots in 1997.
But there are other, even larger changes brewing that put indie entrepreneurs in a powerful spot.
These are more about behaviors, myths, and cultures, though. They’re about how we perceive ourselves, the world around us, and the overlap of the two.
Welcome to divergence.
My working definition: Divergence, or divergent systems, are waves of cultural and behavioral change that separate from existing norms.
These changes are hidden in plain sight. Too vague to explain on one Powerpoint slide, but present enough to be teased out and named.
It’s like the Earth’s rotation. You can’t look out your window and see it. We only know it’s happening because from space, it’s undeniable that our planet is spinning.
Here are a few divergent systems to consider:
From traditional healthcare, to wellness culture and CBD
From government-controlled money systems to cryptocurrency
From owning life’s big cost centers, to sharing them with strangers on the internet (real estate, cars, etc.)
Divergence is a big deal.
These aren’t simple augmentations to customer preferences. Divergence indicates 1.) large-scale dissatisfaction with an existing system and 2.) an (often incidentally) organized alternative.
Basically, people hate how things are done and en-masse create what is to them, a better way.
Brands that buck the status quo have the advantage in a divergent world.
I love it when the apple cart gets upset. I don’t know where that saying comes from, but anytime underdogs start winning, I’m 100% in.
Especially true in sports, but also in business. It keeps it interesting when the status quo flips.
And when it comes to understanding consumer behaviors, divergence calls into question a lot of commonly-held beliefs.
Take for example the assertion that customers are hesitant to leave one brand for another and thus, new category entrants face an uphill battle in gaining market share.
This is, in academic terms, bullshit.
As per McKinsey, most consumer categories see the true driver of purchase behavior as shopping, NOT loyalty. Aside from mobile carriers, auto insurers, and investment services, consumers are up for grabs at any given moment.
Many are willing to explore health outside their doctor, fitness outside a traditional gym, and education outside a traditional college. Each of these shows a divergent system at play.
By looking at the chart above, many are ALSO willing to switch brands when it comes to personal care, electronics, home goods, diet, and banking.
You just have to give them a good reason.
When people drift away from a conventional way of doing things, it creates tons of white space.
Look at how CBD beverage brands Recess tells stories around our need for antidotes and elixirs to the stresses of modern times.
For that story to thrive, we have to first acknowledge that we’re burnt out in new ways. We then must hunt alternatives to the classic coping methods. This in turn creates the room (AKA the white space) for Recess’s narrative to hit home.
White space in a given market is a boon for a bootstrapped brand. Here’s why:
Community-driven: Divergence is a result of dissatisfaction with current options and people bind together to find solutions (see: CrossFit). Big incumbent companies suck at community creation because it requires grass-roots, not some boardroom suits cooking up a forum with an agency. Small brands are fit to excel with this concept.
Less noise: The lack of direct competition should make it cheaper and easier to get your signal through, beyond the general market occupiers. Ads should be cheaper, PR should be more niche, and guerrilla tactics should be less interrupted by big money.
Protected: White space is what it is, not because you’re brilliant in seeing it, but because others risk-averse. It usually challenges the establishment, so even competitors with resources and reach may shy away from getting involved from a purely-principled stance.
Divergence and white space are tied at the hip. It’s pure physics.
Where people diverge from an existing system, they create that untouched snow of possibilities for brands daring enough to step through.
In conclusion, here are some key takeaways:
Divergence is more than a fad. It is a reshuffling of the cultural deck to create new outcomes.
Understanding the role of divergence in our culture is critical for a brand. If nothing else, we must know if we are part of the existing system, or part of the divergent system.
There’s kismet-like alignment between divergence characteristics and the natural strengths of Bootstrapped brands.
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