Through a happy, random circumstance on my Rojo Blog reader, I was presented with two posts by different authors back-to-back, which were so relevant to each other that I wondered if they didn't conspire to make this happen.
First, Seth Godin had an interesting series of metaphors on effective marketing philosophies. The most effective type of targeted marketing was compared to a needle. Although it doesn't cover a lot of surface area, its sharp focus allows it significant penetration in a specific place. This truism of targeted marketing shouldn't need a lot of justification to back it up. It also applies very well to product design, a process I find myself in the middle of right now. If I am designing a web application exclusively for a single customer (say, Jennifer Garner, as an example), I should be able to make it effectively perfect. I put buttons where Jennifer Garner would intuitively want buttons. I add only the features Jennifer Garner would use, and no more. I solve the specific problem Jennifer Garner has.
Sadly, and please understand that I mean this on a number of different levels here, I am not developing a web application exclusively for Jennifer Garner. Building products and services are (generally) far more expensive and time-consuming that launching a marketing campaign, so it becomes a practical necessity to build that product or service with a wider appeal. The needle get a bit blunter. Some companies do this better than others. The really smart companies try to provide a variety of different set-ups of the same product or service, so that the customer can make the product as specific to their needs as possible. Multiple views, advanced options, and supported plug-ins are born.
Which leads me to the post I read immediately after Mr. Godin's from Jeff Nolan at the Venture Chronicles, describing how Linksys is releasing a new line of routers designed specifically to be hacked by the Linux community. Recognizing that a smaller, but very vocal segment of its customer base will want to add their own mojo to the hardware to customize it even further than Linksys provides for a majority of its customer base, the company marketed hackability as a differentiator to a small segment. I think that is a brilliant example of Mr. Godin's "needle marketing," as the buzz among (and subsequently deeper penetration into) the Linux community should pay Linksys back nicely for their efforts.