I love classic rock. I hate classic rock radio.
I spend about ten hours a week in my 2003 Civic. No MP3 jack, no satellite radio. Which means I listen to about nine hours a week of classic rock. (Thank goodness for WXRT, which only plays classic rock about a quarter of the time.) I don’t want to hear talk or news, so like a smoker who curses his habit every time he lights up, I grimace through the endless repetition of the classic rock format as it ruins the music I love.
The magisterial guitar coda of “Comfortably Numb” … the unstoppable hook of “What I Like About You” … the depth-charge bass that detonates “Whole Lotta Love” … even the primal scream at the climax of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” … all rendered mundane. I’ve just heard them way too many times.
One Chicago station even tags itself “The Soundtrack of Our Lives,” suggesting that “our lives” ended when we grew up and had kids. Yet I listen on.
What does this have to do with entrepreneurship? It’s about the power of comfort.
There is no progress without change, innovation, disruption and outside-the-box thinking—and that’s where new fortunes are made. But at the same time, no one’s going broke catering to those who eat the same food, shop at the same stores, visit the same websites and listen to the same music day after day after day.
The classic rock format succeeds because a hefty proportion of my generation is most comfortable hearing the music we listened to in high school.
You can call it inertia, or even laziness, but millions of buying decisions are made every day based on little more than the buyer’s comfort—and moving people away from their comfort level is any marketer’s greatest challenge.
But make a slight improvement to something people are already comfortable with? Back up the truck!
Toyota’s hybrid Prius is a runaway success, but even with $4 gas, all-electric cars barely make a dent in the market. Why? Electric cars are weird, but the Prius is pretty much a “normal” car that happens to get great mileage.
Google didn’t invent the search engine. Facebook didn’t invent social networking. They just improved concepts people were already comfortable with.
Easier said than done, of course. I work closely with Chicago startup Kauzu, who recently launched three applications that connect jobseekers with employers. We didn’t invent online job search, of course, but each application offers improvements—both conceptual and functional—over what the market is familiar with. Results? Check back with me in a few months.
I just hope we make enough money for me to get my Honda an XM receiver.