Geek is cool. It always has been, it has just taken different forms. Today, it's all about video games, D&D, comic books, science fiction and a splintered universe of offbeat music including Nerdcore (geek hip hop). (You can check out a documentary of the Nerdcore "movement" here) The geek eco-system is actually made up of sub-communities defined by subject matter interests from experience format (comic book vs. computer game) to story types (Battlestar Gallactica to Dr. Who) to other affinities, I'm sure.
The common element is a slight-to-greater sense of being an outsider or at least on the fringes of the head-of-the-tail pop culture. An there is a type of tribal kinship. Can this kinship transcend the subcommunities' differences? Can a comic book geek identify with a Halo 3 enthusiast? I think the tribal sense is powerful and may transcend the experience and even the story formats. I had that sense when I attended VideoGames Live! at the Kennedy Center.
The Idea already
What if we could create the ultimate Geek destination that combined the best of geek retail with community? What if we created the Geek Superstore?
xtremegeek and ThinkGeek are well-established in this category. We need to rethink the category. The current xtremegeek store has some great stuff (where else can you find geek staples like trebuchets and barcode t-shirts) but looks and feels too much like that bastion of malls from the eighties. We need more cross-over merchandise:
- button-down white shirts with white-thread (subtle) emblems of Battlestar Gallactica and the scientists from Andromeda Strain. You know, things a guy can wear to work and "blend" while still having that subtle, tribal symbol.
- A selection of geek music from electronica to hiphop
- Advance editions of big name comic books like DMZ
- Special edition Moleskine notebooks with simple text messages on the outside (e.g. "And they have a plan", "I'm a doctor not a brickmason.")
- Gadgets: the latest 4Gb SD Cards (I wish), micro-GPS's, special-use MP3 players.
We have to be careful here as many of the most desireable gadgets - iPhones, Blackkberry 8830's - would require complex service and sales support. Still there's a fleet of gadgets on another level. Or we could create the "ultimate collection" which is really only one produce per category but it's the best in it's class.
It must be more than standard retail. Geeks are a tribe(s). They are social amongst themselves and are enthusiasts for authentic, if not a bit fanciful, experiences. Apple has done a good job of creating a sense of community in their flagship stores. Between the genius bar, product demos, auditorium and occaisional events, they become a destination. Discovery had that in their awesome DC flagship store when I worked there. We actually broadcast a live weekly Webcast from the store in front of an audience. Thinkgeek is already doing some fun things to build community. The good news is that the community(s) already exist. That is the best way to "build" community - start with an authentic, organic core. We have to understand the community and then offer it ways that make it easier to interact.
- Free broadest-band wireless. Keep it simple. That's the bright light. We (geeks) are the moths. You get it.
- Organize products around customer picks. This is like the independent bookstore that features a display of staff picks with handwritten reviews. These would be collected and displayed online. But customer lists would also be featured in-store to give them a spotlight.
- Create a creators circuit where the writer of Y: The Last Man and the effects guy from Serenity can talk and meet with fans. We already see this happening at Comiccon and other big events. Let's bring in more people to talk with fans. It's no longer about the head-of-the-tail stars, it's the creatives that contribute that are interesting. And geek fans are loyal fans.
- Product co-creation. Let's take a page from the book of Threadless. They produce customer-created t-shirts that are voted up by the community. Let's invite customers in to vote up merchandise for our shelves. They choose.
Teh PownTown. Teh-ville. I know it sucks. I need some help here. I have become a big fan of Namewire, the name blog. They are the best naming and branding blog out there and I follow them regularly. I am hoping they can help name this IdeaBar idea.
"Teh" is the classic typo for "the" and before you dismiss it completely think of the SEO benefits. "Pown" is current geek speak. "Town" is stupid but like I said, I need some help.
Whatever the name, it must appeal to the fringe sensibility of the geeks even at the expense of becoming a bit of a head-scratcher for the mass market.