A hugely successful artist or product often starts with a niche audience, who grasps on to something that seems trivial to most of us, but is an essential part of what attracts the initial group of fans and causes them to truly love the artist or product.
I was listening to Taylor Swift on Apple Music on my way home and it made me think of how she was initially a country music singer/songwriter and has grown to become arguably the world’s biggest pop star. I’m sure some of her die-hard fans were not happy when she went mainstream, but the majority of people still love her and what she does. I think she has grown into her mega-stardom quite deftly and surprisingly she has not lost any of her original charm.
Instagram went through a similar transition recently, where they let go of their square image and now let users orient their photos in portrait or landscape. Along with filter effects, the square image was one of the things that made Instagram different when they first started. I personally think it helped create better photos since it forced the user to crop the image and focus on what is important. Again, I’m sure some of the original die-hard Instagram users hated this and thought they lost their roots, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of users liked it. Another example is Snapchat, who recently made the change so that you don’t have to hold down your finger to see a picture or watch a video but you just tap to view. Before that they launched Snapchat Stories, which don’t disappear immediately after you view it, but stick around for day.
For people or products with this kind of extraordinary growth, they have to evolve and mature, especially if they want to eventually reach a mass audience. I remember a great post by Cap Watkins about Formspring after it was shutdown and his thoughts on what went wrong, where he talked about how they held on to their “sacred cow” for way too long. It may seem like you’re giving up your principles or abandoning your roots, but there does come a point where you need to break out of what brought you the early success and find a new path that will help you achieve the bigger vision or opportunity.
But of the ones that have done this successfully, the thing that they all seem to have in common is that you still recognize the artist or product even after they have made all of these changes. Taylor is still Taylor. Instagram is still Instagram. Snapchat is still Snapchat. I think this is a critical part of making these types of changes and growing from a small niche to a global audience.