As I mentioned in last night’s entry, the customer is a fickle master. The market answers to his every whim, and tries to serve his every desire in an attempt to gain the good graces of his funding. In a niche market like anime, the graces of the customer become even more important. The anime industry is a definite high-risk environment, and it takes a truly remarkable, uncompromising approach to properly marketing to the audience.
I say “uncompromising” because, frankly, the moment a business chooses to tone down its approach, to play things safe, is the moment the very concept of being remarkable flies out the window. Marketer Seth Godin often illustrates this point the old parable “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” In plain English, this means that those who shy away from risks, those who try to tone down their extremes often end up with an end result that’s both unappealing and unlike what the market generally wants. This result is boring. It’s “safe”, but it’s boring. And, frankly, boring products don’t garner the favor of the greater market.
In English, this it’s best to leave a few rough edges – to have some risk in a somewhat rougher product if it means having a more special, more interesting product to offer ot customers. This is akin to selling Jalapeno candy – it may not be the most appealing idea out the gate, but it certainly is interesting. Distributors cannot be afraid to offend, to annoy, or even unnerve their markets, if it means being anything but the “same old same old.” However, this must still have some value to the king of the market: the customer. In the case of the anime market, in the 2000s, ADV Films released several behind-the-scenes pieces – voice actor interviews, translator commentaries, and other America-centric production pieces. The quality was pretty terrible: the people talking were often stilted and nervous for the camera, the lighting was often too bright or to dim, and the entire product seemed rough around the edges. However, these pieces were remarkable in the sense that they were, and still are, quite uncommon in the market today. It’s something that the company is now remembered for, in the wake of its closure, and looked upon fondly by many current customers.
The move to be “remarkable” isn’t necessarily something outlandish. In the anime world, this can be something simple. For example, unique packages, a premium label for older or landmark titles, or even a specially presented line for popular starter shows. FUNimation has taken steps in this direction recently with their Blu-Ray/DVD combination packs, as well as their first-run premium editions. While the anime industry has seen premium content in the past, we have seen a larger trend toward cheaper shows and a more bare-bones presentation.
The one thing we really can’t see a return to, though, is a focus on “cheap.” As Godin says, “cheap is a lazy way out of the battle for the Purple Cow.” Unless a distributor can redefine the ways to distribute, to offer, or to present their titles to the masses, chopping the price will only cut down on the perceived value. It’s the worst way to gain attention, as it will only incite similar behavior from the competition, with no real lasting boost in sales. Instead, allowing the products to speak, to have their own strong identity will be a more worthwhile, but more difficult challenge to overcome.
The goal of the Purple Cow mentality is to reach out and grab those who wouldn’t normally buy a company’s product with regularity – the Tier 1 non-consumers I mentioned last night. To reach this market, different (often radical) approaches to presentation, or to sales approaches are expected and to be watched with intent. For a few examples of purple cows in this end, one could look toward Criterion, whose plain, clean, and very stylish cases are a hallmark of the company’s identity. Or, in a more popular example, the Harry Potter novel series had four distinct editions for every release: two standard editions, and two adult editions. The adult editions are particularly remarkable in the fact that, at a glance, they look nothing like the boy wizard’s trademark colorful covers. The books feature simple, stylish imagery and a heavier paper stock that were geared toward those who want to enjoy the story, but are too bashful to be seen in public with what is perceived to be a children’s book.
The road to making anime remarkable again will be difficult. It’s something that will require not only a change in marketing, but a paradigm shift in mentality. If the industry can create a purple cow, we could see an appreciable boost in sales, and a general expansion of the anime market. This is a big if, though – anime is a risky game, and we have seen many powerful entities reduced to rubble. A remarkable company must be ever-vigilant – it must be willing to change, to observe, and to react quickly, while ensuring that the foul beasts of “compromise”, “cheapness”, and “waste.” The customer is a powerful master. He owns the very fate of all who try to sell to him. To curry his favor means that one must be willing to sacrifice, and to be ever-changing. The risks are great, but the rewards would be incredible for both parties.