Selling Vapor

Ideas are tough to sell because people don’t adopt ideas easily.

I knew a sci-fi writing couple who claimed to have popularized the concept of “ecology” in the 1960s as part of a language adoption experiment. Their observation (which may be sci-fi itself) was back then it took about seven years for a new concept to become culturally ubiquitous.

We can assume that in our Internet age that it takes about seven minutes.

The problem with marketing an idea of any type (including intangible services) is that ideas may or may not be facts. Facts, data, features, benefits – these are elements that people can wrap their minds around. They are manifestations of already adopted concepts, and thus easy to accept. When anthropogenic global warming theory was first released, nobody aside from a few alleged scientists had conceptualized the theory, and it took time (about seven years) for the notion to become mainstream.

Thanks to the Internet, it has taken about half that time for the theory to fall out of favor.

Ideas commonly meet four major points of resistance. Your job, if you are selling an idea, is to reduce the resistance in advance of promotion.

Complexity: Many notions are complex, and if not complex, are at least complex in the framework people have in their heads. Distilling ideas into succinct statements is essential. Climatology is very complex. Al Gore alleging that “the earth has a fever” is almost as simple as Al himself.

Impersonality: Unless someone has a personal perspective, new ideas remain foreign. Making it personal matters. The ecology movement got a rapid boost when evening news broadcasts showed polluted Cuyahoga River on fire (burning water makes local pollution seem relevant).

Conservatism: People are raised with sets of ideas, and new ones that violate olds ones are resisted (“What do you mean there is only one God?”). Religions have made habit of hijacking pagan celebrations of disfavored deities in order to make the new faith less opposing and more connected to traditional ideas.

Objective: Unless an idea has an end goal, people have no motivation for adopting it. Understanding ecology as a science was a lost cause, but being able to breath in Los Angeles was a popular new notion in the 1960s.

Selling an idea should come with a simple, personalized, non-threatening end objective. Let’s hope politicians never learn this.


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