May 23, 2022

Average is a Brown Puddle

When I think about brands, I don't consider the average person's opinion. That sounds dangerous. At least if you're attempting to build a brand by playing things safe.

The average branding process usually starts with an average question. Something like: what would the average person enjoy? Or maybe: what would make our average customer attracted to our product?

Would you blend all the flavors of a buffet and enjoy an average smoothie?

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, on average.

If you take an average of Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the result beautiful? No. It's a brown puddle. Rembrandt knew that chiaroscuro—contrasts in light and color—are what make a painting attractive. There can be no light without darkness, no darkness without light.

The more averaged something gets, the less stylized it becomes. It loses its contrast. Until, like our painting, all you have left is a sad, brown puddle. It's for nothing. For no one. That's what rounding work to the average ultimately demands.

If you set out to create something for an average person, you're designing for someone who doesn't exist—no one. And that's exactly who will love it when it's finished—no one. Average is a brown puddle, and no one dreams about becoming a brown puddle some day.

So why start anything by thinking about the average?

If you want to make something dynamic and useful, you can't start with average. Embrace the different. Think chiaroscuro. Find your weirdest viable customer and create something just for them. They'll love it. And they won't be able to help spreading the word about it, either. Suddenly, you've found your 1,000 true fans.

The next time you get the urge to think about an average customer, I want you to picture the original Storm on the Sea of Galilee, in all its beauty and contrast.

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, original.

The world is lousy with mediocre things. Tchotchkes, made for no one. The last thing the world needs is more average stuff.

The world needs more cross-pollination. The mixing of ideas across disciplines and perspectives. Be a cross-pollinator. The world needs more outsiders. The people willing to embrace the weird and make risky choices. Be an outsider. And I think the world needs Groundwork, to help bring these ideas to life.

Enough brown puddles. Let's make something different and watch it grow from the ground up.

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