Impatient Ideas

Clarke’s Law of Great Ideas eloquently summarizes the four phases your boss passes through after you insert a novel new idea into his alleged mind:

  • It is impossible – don’t waste my time.
  • It is possible, but it is not worth doing.
  • I said it was a good idea all along.
  • Members of the board, here is my idea.

But it isn’t just your boss. It is your market that goes from utter disbelief to passionate involvement over time. Marketing’s job it to short circuit the disbelief/belief gap and reduce the time to mass market acceptance.

It ain’t easy. If it was, then anyone could do it.

concept acceptance over time - adapted from Seth GodinSeth Godin recently opined on the topic, and provided a graph (we prettied it up) which shows that in the short-run, ideas are not warmly met by everyone. Yes, a small set of early adopters “gets it”, but most of the market fails to see the value of any new product, including yours. If the idea has any mass market merit at all, in time everyone in the market will “get it”.

But not every company has the time to wait on an entire market to wise-up. One of marketing’s many jobs is to compress the time from product introduction to a universal belief that the product is good, valuable, and so popular that not buying it is a display of mental instability bested only by running for elected office.

In the graph above, the obvious element is the difference between early adopters and laggards – the people who get it and the people who don’t. You can spend a ton of cash and blather until your continence turns a lovely shade of cyan and still not get a market to accept your product. But people who get it can and often do so for free.

How does an idea become common knowledge – the right end of the graph? By being “common”. Good ideas – and even some bad ones – reach a critical mass of acceptance. When they do, the knee of the curve is reached and the market self-perpetuates the belief. The idea appears to be universal, and thus is accepted as such. Al Gore promoted anthropogenic global warming as “settled science” in order to make the idea appear universal (if it was or wasn’t was immaterial – he had to make the public believe it was).

How does a marketer make buyers reach this point of assumed mass consensus? One reason social media is such a popular marketing tool is that it creates the illusion of peer-level consensus. “People” visuals in promotions create the illusion that real humans (not just stock photo models) believe in the product. “Booth babes” that can attract and hold visitors at a trade event indirectly create a sense of broad consumer interest.

The mechanics of these different approaches are that they tap into a common belief system – that being part of a group is better than being a disgruntled dissenter. Humans are pack animals, and though we may choose to run with different packs, only über eccentrics are not in one pack or another. Social media to sell apps, photos of families to promote gout medicines, and even smoking hot women in skimpy outfits roping in tech tradeshow geeks are part of stimulating pack mentality. These are forms of “getting it”, being part of a group, and sharing some innate belief. This is essential to short circuiting mass acceptance, be it for environmental consciousness or toothpaste.


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