I’m not a pink cow

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Look! It's a pink cow!

Seth Godin's presentation on TED (via Staffan Estberg) is a great starting point for reflection on what grasps people’s attention. The guy is hilarious and presents some startling ideas on what makes things “remarkable”. The pink cow metaphor, however, raises some serious thoughts when you address the issue of architecture – which he does – and even blogging. Here’s my two cents about it.

Seth explains that for a long time marketers have been targeting the “early and late majority”, that’s the big group in the center of the graphic. He says that’s a big mistake because those are the guys that are good at ignoring stuff. He’s right. So the right thing to do is to seize the attention of the “innovators” and “early adopters”, those are the guys that are obsessed with something, the ones that get engaged enough to spread the word around.
So I’m wondering if this isn’t a bit of a contradiction. Because these folks at the beginning of the graphic aren’t necessarily the ones that care about pink cows. Now everyone stops to stare at a pink cow now and then. But after a while it becomes just a gimmick. The novelty device becomes as boring as everything else in the stream of things. Do you still care about “the tallest building in the world”? Fancy for a “rotating tower”? The thing isn’t built yet and I’m already yawning.

So if you want to target these guys maybe you have to show them more than a pink cow. In fact, you don’t need a pink cow. You need to explain the cow, contextualize it, and make them think “hey, I didn’t now cows did that”. That’s were blogs come in. Because an interesting blogger is someone who provides perspective and context. The path to success is specificity and depth, and that’s what this specific group of obsessed people is looking for. It may take some time, but if you’re good at it, they will come to see what you’re up to.

Now I’ve been blogging for a few years and I’ve learned some tricks in the process. Let’s say I publish a brand new set of images of the latest building by a famous architect. It’s a safe bet and I could name a few blogs that I’m sure are going to link to it. And I’ll get a few extra hundred readers from it.
But say I publish a completely unusual outstanding piece of work by an architect that you’ve probably never heard of. I’m sure I won’t get one link from the guys that play it safe. But the guys that are thinking outside the box will become engaged, comment, link and share. In the process, you’ll find yourself becoming more established on the web.

In a way, visibility on the web is a bit like a stock market and the currency is credibility. It’s not something you build in a day, but it can be done and it’s open to everybody with a brain attached.
That’s where I don’t get some bloggers who say out loud they don’t care about how many visitors they get. It’s a respectable attitude when you’re focused on maintaining a specific style and quality of blogging independently of its popularity. But when you have no quality and no visibility, of course you don’t brag about visitors.
Maintaining quality while being specific is exactly what makes blogs successful. One fast look at some of the most popular architecture blogs around shows just that. And being popular, or as Seth Goodin says, remarkable, is important because it will measure your ability to expand into the web, through individual visitors, linking blogs and feed readers.
The greatest thing about blogs is that they attract a specific kind of reader. You may find yourself unable to reach out to the big majority, but you’ll see that it’s possible to create your niche of interest, attracting people that care about the things you’re passionate about just as much as you.

So let’s take a good look at that cow, shall we?