Do you own a business? Is the current economic situation creating Uncertainty? I'd like to share some of the work of Everett Rogers with you, I believe there's a tremendous amout of wisdom in his research and that of his colleagues in the field of Diffusion, and you'll find that their ideas will stimulate thought- and lead to practical action.
Let's leave the specifics of the dental realm behind; in fact as our example let's look at the performing arts. I chose this field for several reasons- f'rinstance, attendance is totally elective; we tend to enjoy theater and music experiences because we chose the artist and the venue. (There are exceptions: like thirty-something parents who crave the latest Rich Medina hip-hop vibe being coerced into taking their pre-teen daughters to see the Jonas brothers instead is one example that springs to mind.)
In any event, let's examine the dynamics of how we can market our business to our potential fans/clients/customers/patients, whatever the specifics are- the principles are universal. Let's see how poorly advertising works these days and what we can do instead.
According to Seth Godin,
"First, the end of the 'TV-Industrial complex' means that marketers no longer have the power to command the attention of anyone they choose, whenever they choose. Second, in a marketplace in which consumers have more power, marketers must show more respect; this means no spam, no deceit and a bias for keeping promises. Finally, Godin asserts that the only way to spread the word about an idea is for that idea to earn the buzz by being remarkable. Godin refers to those who spread these ideas as 'Sneezers', and to the ideas so spread as an 'IdeaVirus.' He calls a remarkable product or service a 'Purple Cow'.
Advertisements on television and radio are classified as 'Interruption marketing', which interrupt the customer while he is doing something of his preference. Godin introduced the concept of 'Permission Marketing' where the business provides something of value to the customer and thus obtains his permission and then does marketing."
With traditional advertising working less effectively all the time, how to get the word out to your audience about your latest project? Understanding the Diffusion of Innovation Curve is one of the keys to success.
"Diffusion" is the process by which an innovation is communicated over various channels over time among the members of a social system. Given that decisions are not authoritative or collective, each member of the social system faces his/her own innovation-decision that follows a 5-step process:
(1) Knowledge – person becomes aware of an innovation and has some idea of how it functions,
(2) Persuasion – person forms a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the innovation,
(3) Decision – person engages in activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the innovation,
(4) Implementation – person puts an innovation into use,
(5) Confirmation – person evaluates the results of an innovation-decision already made.
What is most remarkable about diffusion theory is that, for most members of a social system, the innovation-decision depends heavily on the innovation-decisions of the other members of the system. In fact, we see that the successful spread of an innovation follows an S-shaped curve. There is, after about 10-25% of system members adopt an innovation, relatively rapid adoption by the remaining members and then a period in which the holdouts finally adopt.
The innovation-decision is made through a cost-benefit analysis where the major obstacle is uncertainty. People will adopt an innovation if they believe that it will, all things considered, enhance their lives. Since people are on average risk-averse, the uncertainty will often result in a postponement of the decision until further evidence can be gathered. But the key is that this is not the case for everyone. Each individual’s innovation-decision is largely framed by personal characteristics, and this diversity is what makes diffusion possible.
Let's look at the five categories of people represented in the Curve from the standpoint of, say, a playwright. "Innovators" thus are the playwright herself, the actors, producers, set designers and all others who help to bring the written word to life as a play.
"Early Adopters" are folks who, upon seeing and enjoying the play, enthusiastically talk about its merits to others. They act as megaphones, telling all within their circle of influence about the work and their reactions to it. In Godin's terms, they are "sneezers" who spread the "ideavirus" of the play. Most of a social system's opinion leaders reside within this part of the Curve. Much of the social system does not have the inclination or capability to remain abreast of the most recent information about innovations, so they instead trust the decisions made by opinion leaders. Additionally, much of the social system, the "Early Majority" and "Late Majority", merely wants to stay in step with the rest. Since opinion leader adoption is a good indicator that an innovation is going to be adopted by many others, these conformity-loving members are encouraged to attend our play, rather than stay at home. The "safe" thing to do is now to go out and spend money and time on seeing the play because the opinion leaders have pointed out that missing the play is "costlier" in a social sense.
Sometimes, a large subsection of the social system follows suit with the trusted opinion leaders. This is the highly sought-after "tipping point", where the rate of adoption rapidly increases. The domino effect continues as, even for those who are cautious or have particular qualms with the innovation, adoption becomes a necessity as the implementation of the innovation-decisions of earlier adopters result in social and/or economic benefit. Those who have not adopted lose status or economic viability, and this contextual pressure motivates adoption; in our example, attendance rises dramatically. The play's run is extended to accomodate the demands of its audience.
"Laggards" are very conservative, traditional and perhaps even isolated within the social system. Simply put, in our example, they don't attend the theater!
There is no way to force the issue or guarantee that a tipping point, and thus success, will occur. However the odds can be increased dramatically by having a remarkable product, and also by a process called Edgecraft. More on Edgecraft in another Discussion.
The lesson to be learned here when contemplating how best to bring your art to its proper audience is summed up nicely by Greg Orr, and thus by extension Rogers himself:
"The mass media’s most powerful effect on diffusion is that it spreads knowledge of innovations to a large audience rapidly. It can even lead to changes in weakly held attitudes. But strong interpersonal ties are usually more effective in the formation and change of strongly held attitudes. Research has shown that firm attitudes are developed through communication exchanges about the innovation with peers and opinion leaders. These channels are more trusted and have greater effectiveness in dealing with resistance or apathy on the part of the communicatee.
Persuading opinion leaders is the easiest way to foment positive attitudes toward an innovation."
This is how we do marketing in 2010! And there's a hidden gem here- this type of marketing, being an honest and visceral representation of what you have to offer, is by its nature more ethical and transparent than any "ad" can be. And your new customers end up being more congruent with your business and its philosophy- the diffusion process is self-selective for this congruency. In other words, they like you even before they come in the door.
Seth Godin, The Purple Cow & Free Prize Inside, for starters, and his blog @
Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 2003, 5th edition
For a very fine condensed review of Diffusion, check out Greg Orr's article online; much of my article above is based on Orr's review:
I'll also offer, in the offbeat words of my-favorite-writer-Tom-Bentley,
"What do you think about the look and the content? Any comments about the business idea? Any comments about my hair?" If so, give me a shout,