Democratization means commoditization of your business

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Mr. Schu reads at a giant button and needle in Kansas City

We tend to speak of democratization as though it were unilaterally good.

  • The democratization of media means that anyone can become a journalist. All you need is a blog or social media account.
  • The democratization of photography means that anyone with a smartphone can become a photographer.
  • The democratization of education means that anyone with an Internet connection can get a world class education.
  • The democratization of marketing analytics means that anyone with a Google Analytics account can have top-shelf insight into their business.

Democratization has a flip side, a negative consequence. Democratizing a thing automatically transforms that thing into a commodity, into something abundant rather than scarce. When something is abundant, it automatically creates a vast spectrum of value, and sometimes that value is difficult to discern.

  • Democratized media is of uneven quality. Some media sources are high quality. Some are abysmally low quality. It takes passion, skill, and knowledge to sift fact from falsehood.
  • Democratized photography is of uneven quality. Billions of photos are taken each day and most are quite bad. If you want to find great photography, you have to invest serious time into curation and sorting.
  • Democratized education is of uneven quality. As a hiring manager, resumes blend together and candidates become indistinguishable on paper. Who truly has the skills you need when everyone looks the same?
  • Democratized marketing analytics are high quality, but our ability to manage those analytics tools is of uneven quality. Anyone can say they’ve worked with Google Analytics, but how many people – even those who are certified Google Analytics professionals – can truly make the tools work for your business?

The most difficult challenge you’ll face as a marketer is when your business or market becomes commoditized. You’ll be fighting a flood of imitators. You’ll struggle with mind share, with customers understanding how you’re different than the thousands of other potential suppliers.

When a part of your business or marketing becomes commoditized, you have an imperative to focus ruthlessly on quality – and to provide blatant, bold, empirical evidence of your quality. Being a needle in a haystack is fine as long as you’re a 5 foot tall needle.

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