The following post is the first in a series of posts on 21st century business principles. In this series I will be looking at a singer/songwriter, a company, a book, an entire industry and a blogger/thinker who have all denounced the old ways of business as usual and are busy paving new ways to success in the 21st century.
Joe Purdy just might be the quintessential 21st century businessman. Without the assistance of a label at any point in his career he has been able sell more than 800,000 direct track downloads on iTunes [¹], land several of his songs on major television shows, such as “Lost”, and from the ground up – almost one show at a time – build a loyal base of fans willing to spread the word of his music virally across the Web. How has Joe managed to accomplish this? I believe it is because he has an understanding of this new world we are living in and has stayed true to one of the most important 21st century business principles — originality.
In today’s hypercompetitive environment it is easier than ever to come up with the same business or product as the next guy. Most of the traditional barriers to entry have essentially fallen. For every Groupon there are seemingly dozens of BuyWithMe’s, Living Social’s and… you get the picture. The problem with this is that it leads directly to commoditization and there are no real reasons for people to choose one business or product over the others. Joe, on the other hand, has been radically original in not only his songwriting, but also in the management of his career. As I mentioned before, he is a truly independent artist who has not been willing to compromise even a single note of his music in order to sign on with a label. He is original in that he writes all of his own songs and performs them using a variety of instruments. He is original in that he records, produces and distributes all of his music himself. He is original in that every one of his albums is up on his website for anyone to listen to before purchasing. In fact, he is so original that he released his latest album free to download in the month of December!
You might still be asking yourself why originality is so important or, better yet, how some of the examples I offered benefit Joe? Originality, like all 21st century business principles, is not about the short-term or transactional mindset. It is about building something unique, full of authentic value, that people will latch on to and actually benefit from. What Joe has done instead of taking the quick buck is craft heartfelt, original music that will only increase in value over time due to growing “attention scarcity“. With the explosion of media being created your stuff better stand out and you better know how to nurture a strong community if you want continued attention. By allowing fans to listen to albums on his website he is essentially reducing a cost or risks on their part. The cost being the fans having to search for information about the album and the risks being the fans having to illegally download it or end up purchasing something they are not even sure they will like. Why am I bringing up how his fans benefit? Because smart businesses today have “outside-in” perspectives or the goal of “delighting clients“. Simply put, in a world where marketplace power has shifted from seller to buyer it makes a lot of sense to focus on the foundation of your business — customers. As for releasing an album free for its first month, I think Joe intended to generate some good old fashioned buzz.
Historically, what Joe has accomplished has been pretty much impossible. The major labels, radio station owners and critics played such a big role in deciding what music was going to get to the listeners. I believe that he recognized the changes taking place in the music industry early on and jumped at the unique opportunity in front of him to be able to make music the way he wanted. By leveraging social technologies Joe has been able to build up his brand, better engage his fans and, ultimately, sell his music — himself. This same opportunity is in front of every business and individual today willing to recognize that the changes the music industry has faced are taking place in essentially every other industry imaginable. The question is can you be original enough to capitalize on this…?