"Substituting nuance for novelty is what experts do, and that is why they are never bored."

— Psychologist Angela Duckworth

Dan Nielsen: Marketing: Nuance tends to outlast novelty

Dan Nielsen

Variety is the spice of life. It takes all kinds of people to populate our world. Some like the taste of cinnamon, others prefer marjoram.

Plenty of folks go through life behaving as if salt is the one and only spice. The world's salt mines continue to do a solid trade because their product has a well-established market. Sodium chloride performs many functions in addition to its job as king of the spices, so its place in the business world is ensured.

Other spices — turmeric, cardamom, etc. — play second fiddle atop the world's tablecloth. But they get a workout, too. Because most humans crave variety in their diet.

I've dined with delightful souls who slather ketchup on both hamburgers and prime rib, who spread mayonnaise on both baloney and lobster, who unscrew the salt shaker top so they can pour a sufficient amount of salt on both green bean casserole and goat cheese en croûte (whatever that is — I just Googled "fancy food").

More power to them, I say. My palate is no more refined than theirs, and I respect their choice to stick with a flavor profile they like through any menu, regardless of price.

But I can get bored with ketchup, mayonnaise and sometimes even salt. I eat food almost every day, but that certainly doesn't qualify me as an expert on the subject. Still, I tend to substitute nuance for novelty to avoid boredom. Some days I like a tablespoon of curry powder, other days just a pinch of black pepper.

A spoonful of nuance helps the gelatin go down.

Our collective quest for variety boosts not only the spice business, but also many other realms of commerce. Where would the wine industry be if all wines tasted exactly the same? What if all cheese, beer or spaghetti sauce had identical flavor profiles? What if, as in some science fiction films, everyone wore identical jumpsuits? What if all new houses had the same floor plan and trim? What if every last car on the planet had the same features, body style, performance and paint color?

The concept of business competition, assuming equal product quality, would fade to mere cost (and the very important aspect of customer service). In a world like that, a car of a different color would be celebrated as a novelty. And probably would command a high price, because someone would want to be a rebel and stand out from the crowd.

When we buy a car, we need a vehicle that will get us from Point A to Point B. But we desire more — comfort, excitement, status, whatever.

A world without nuance — flavor, color, texture, choice — would be pretty boring.

Such a world also would make capitalism nearly impossible. There would be little or no competition, nothing to set one manufacturer's product apart from any other.

Nuance helps make business — and life itself — exciting. The essence of human cultural experience is rooted solidly in overtone, undertone, hint, suggestion, fine detail and the exploration of personal preference. When we stop exploring, our world gets smaller.

When we attend a chili-tasting event, we desire more than the combined flavors of beef, tomato and onion. We don't necessarily crave a screaming carnival in our mouth. We seek subtle hints of cumin, chili powder or something unexpected — and we crave the opportunity to explore the way the cook combined those flavors. It all comes down to nuance.

Novelty can be fun and profitable. But nuance is the key to sustained business.

Contact Business Editor Dan Nielsen at 231-933-1467 or dnielsen@record-eagle.com.

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