Steering Clear Of The Bleeding Edge

Let the other guys bleed. Let them experiment with rich media, high cost hardware and out-of-the-box thinking.

Be smart and follow at a distance. Doesn’t sound sexy enough for you? Suit yourself but some of the most successful companies follow at a distance.

Think AOL. High tech and bleeding edge? Not really. But they seem to be doing just fine.

Think Microsoft. I’m a devoted Mac user (can’t beat that new G3!), but Microsoft impresses the heck out of me. Their operating systems have always been about five years behind the ‘edge’ on which Apple has almost bled itself to death. But they seem to be doing pretty well.

Sure, a high-speed, high-stakes industry like Internet commerce needs hundreds and thousands of bleeding edge companies. These guys are out there, expanding new horizons, creating new opportunities, exploring fresh avenues and dropping like flies.

That’s good. But you and I can take the alternative route. We’ll stand back, survey the battlefield and make a bunch of money.

Back to AOL: Over the last few years they’ve moved forward at the apparent pace of a slug in traction, and made megabucks mopping up all the business that the bleeding edge guys have developed, but missed, because they’re moving too fast.

Skip this paragraph if you’re offended by naughty thoughts — but here’s an unsavory story that was told to me a long time back — and which I’ve never forgotten. Here goes: A young bull and an older bull are standing at the top of a hill, looking down at a large group of young cows in a pasture below.

The young bull says, “Let’s run down there and ‘make babies’ with one of those cows.” The older bull replies, “No, let’s WALK down there and ‘make babies’ with them all.”

The story may lack in sophistication, but it carries a heck of a message for those of us hoping to do business over the Internet. In short, let the young bulls run ahead. You and I can walk slowly behind and make a whole lot more money in the process.

What does this mean on your web site?

Forget all the fancy stuff. Forget high bandwidth. Forget streaming video, big photos, live audio. Keep it simple and keep it fast.

In your online advertising, forget rich media. Everyone is telling you that regular banner ads are dead. No, they’re not.

Be smart, let the other guys bleed on the rich media while you create great banner ads. You can buy impressions real cheap right now.

Now someone’s going to ask me, “Hey, smarty-pants, if I’m going to back off from the edge, how am I supposed to compete with the big guys?”

My recommendation is that you do something that many of the big guys are not doing — and appear to have forgotten how to do.

  • Figure out what tens of millions of regular people with regular computers and regular modems really want.
  • Let them know that you have what they want. And say it very simply and very clearly.
  • Treat them like real people, deal with them respectfully and give them the best service they’ve ever experienced.

    You don’t need to be on the bleeding edge to achieve this. Really. You don’t. Just some business smarts and common sense.

    Be an old bull. Oh, and watch out for a really big, old bull who gets points one to three really, really well and has been a little slow to amble down to the pasture. He answers to the name “Wal-Mart.”

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