As an academic, you probably have a quality body of work in your files. Maybe you have or plan to have a website where that work can live, so that people can find your research. If you just put it out there, the quality of the work will speak for itself and the right people will find it, right? Well, not quite.
The Field of Dreams Fallacy
In the start-up world this idea is called the “Field of Dreams Fallacy,” named after the sports fantasy movie Field of Dreams. Founders often believe that if you build the right product and put it on a nice website, it will get noticed and bring success, as the baseball field in Field of Dreams does. But these founders soon figure out that creating and showcasing a great product is not enough for the target customers to find and be attracted to the product.
Success doesn’t always follow excellence. It’s not really the very best books that get listed on the NYT bestseller list; it’s the ones that got the most attention. The same is true for movies: it’s not the best-made movie that is the blockbuster; it’s the one that the most people went to see. Similarly, it is not the most well-researched and well-written scholarly work that the most people read, but the work that finds its way to an audience and captivates them.
Although creating quality work and making that work public is crucial, if you stop there, it’s not guaranteed that even the people who manage to find it will engage with it meaningfully, or tell someone about it, or even read to the end of the first article they click on. This is only the first step towards successfully proliferating your ideas or getting recognition for your work.
The Value of Distribution
The most important and difficult part of successfully operating a business, and the most important and difficult part of becoming successful as a producer and communicator of ideas, is getting people to know about what you are doing and be attracted to it. We call this the distribution problem—the problem of obscurity.
Lots of businesses have a good product, but in order for them to grow they need to make sure that they have systems in place to make their product visible, desirable, and accessible. Otherwise, they can stay in obscurity until they go out of business, even if the quality of the product or the importance of the cause is exceptional.
Often, people think of marketing as an afterthought, and imagine that they can get by allocating only about 20% of their time and resources for marketing their product or content. But in order to make an impact, you need to spend a significantly larger portion of your time and effort than you think strategizing how people are going to find out about, and just as importantly, care about, your idea, organization, business, movement, or brand.
If you want to gain and maintain an audience or consumer base, you should reverse the mindset. Instead of giving 80% of time and resources to the product and 20% to marketing, you should aim for dedicating 80%—at minimum 50%—to building and feeding the distribution channels needed for people to find out about and consume/purchase your content or product.
If you are a professor, your time and resources might include a research assistant who can learn to use distribution channels like your website, social media, podcast platforms, etc. to help you make your existing content accessible for a public audience. Even without an assistant, by focusing on distribution—creating content in batches, repurposing them for different platforms, and scheduling posts ahead of time—you can build your platform in a way that is manageable and sustainable.
You don’t need to constantly produce content for your platform to thrive. If you are already in the business of knowledge and ideas, you don’t have a content problem; you have a distribution problem. Solving the distribution problem is the key to finding your audience.