Years ago when i was a student i did my masters theses on Everett Rogers' diffusion of innovation theory. Today I am still gob-smacked to see so many mediocre thoughts based around the idea that if you influence the influencers the rest will take care of itself. Glad to see that this rubbish view is finally being challenged. I hated Gladwell as i thought what he was suggesting was marketing porn the sort of shit that lazy marketers looking for quick fix formulas would drool over. Even people like Earls don't talk about the original theory. What Rogers outlined fifty years ago was a number of factors that can make an idea spread. Mostly it is to do with (you guessed it) the quality of what you actually want to spread whether it's an idea or a piece of technology. It has to be innovative in the first place. Secondly once you cracked a mind blowing innovation then the quality of the network in which this idea is meant to flow needs to fulfill a lot of criteria. To oversimplify Rogers like that is a travesty but I will in two lines. 1. You must have a fucking mind blowing new, innovative, valuable and compelling idea first. 2. Then and only then you can start worrying about the quality of the connections between the people you want to take it up. In other words it's less to do with the people you are influencing and more to do with the content you are influencing them with and the quality of the pipelines between those people. Finally, if you still want a formula here are some ingredients based on Rogers for spreading stuff: 1. Demonstrate considerable advantage to everything else is out there. (Hardly going to come from your average brand / agency) 2. Show how it is compatible with what the receiver already knows. (It has to fit in or evolve an existing frame or reference) 3. Reduce complexity show how easy it is to adopt it. (not only show them and idea show them how they can work it) 4. Encourage trail. 5. Show credibility by showing observable social advantages. (This actually means you have to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE and what makes them tick instead of knowing the special yoghurt flavour of the celebrity you just hired to influence people) There were other pre-conditions for diffusion that I will not go on about here. I cannot be bothered with marketers who buy this whole influence the influencer bollox without thinking first of how they will make a better mouse trap instead of trying to simply trap people like mice.
There are endless conversations going on right now about brands moving from 'saying' (making ads) to 'doing' (making services e.g. Nike +). Naturally it wasn't one individual who came up with that trend or shift, lots of marketers and particularly those of us in new media noticed this early on. Personally the first time I've written about this in presentations and articles was as far back as 2001. However, I wanted to re-fresh my own thinking as well as current mood in this area. I am of-course indebted to John Grant for the original chart in his new book (pg: 134) as well as various others who are championing the doing e.g. Stuart. There are multiple ideas that I tried to summaries in one chart which is ambitious but most of it is above. I will not go into the full discourse of what everything means but I will attempt a brief summary. Yesterday: Brands used to operate in a universe of commerce and communication meant to say & sell products and emotions to consumers with an end goal of making money. Today: Brands are more like social movements who operate in a universe of culture and society they no longer just say&sell but they do & share either a passion or an enemy with perhaps a bigger end goal of making meaning rather than just money. (see previous post on credibility v commitment). A lot of stuff goes into this newish framework: The role of the brand is no longer to release the consumer from the tyranny of conscious choice but a bigger one of instigating a social reformation either by sharing a passion or fighting a joint enemy. Brands have to play more of a cultural role rather than a commercial one. If a brand or company is not helping culture or society move forward somehow it will appear as just trying to use clever stuff to sell stuff. Brands have to stop sitting on an aspiration pedestal and stand next to a new type of consumer who is truly not stupid. The role of consumer has changed. They are no longer consumers and particularly online. They behave more like citizen activists, journalists, pirates, producers, protagonists in the brand story and most importantly their buying decisions are more like voting with their wallets for things they believe in rather than buying stuff. The mode of communication was about showing, selling, spinning stories and creating illusions - sorry bran image - around perfectly mundane products. But that's clearly no longer enough. A brand that does what it says and stands next to its citizens in either a fight against a cultural enemy (Thank you ignorance / Nike) or shares a passion with consumers is far more likely to be seen as credible, committed and a contributor to a greater cultural meaning. In a way I think what I am saying is this the nature of commerce itself needs to be re-visited. Is really the pursuit of above average profit such a brilliant goal for companies or brands? Or, could they pursue a greater good that extends beyond selling stuff. Consider your average global brand: probably has more revenue than the GDP of a small country, a better infrastructure than most governments, a better handle on resources than most charities and better democracy than most countries because their consumers vote with their wallets not with any misguided loyalty. Just imagine if global brands started using their immense power to try and make an above average culture instead of above average profit...we may just have a planet worth saving then instead of this pointless mess.
I am having various debates at work around one of our clients who do have a lot of credibility as a 'creative' brand. However, it dawned on me that credibility is not enough because lots of other competitors direct/indirect can also be credible in their own way while claiming the same territory. And here is where my thoughts shifted towards commitment. How committed are you as a brand really to whatever territory you want to own? Take Dove Real beauty for example, fantastic campaign and reasonably credible (unless as a consumer you find out that it is made by the same people who glamourise skinny girls in their Lynx ads). Now take Nike for example that is committed to its cause and never wavered from its few core principles such as being for the athlete in all of us. Nike is committed and credible when they give me something like Nike+. Since day one they've been about the athlete and did things for the athlete it's an unwavering commitment and loyalty to an attitude as much as to an audience. The difference is that between those who will use whatever cool thing they can find in order to brand and sell and those who truly believe in a cause or a mission. I can't remember who said it but somebody once said that a principal is not a principal unless it costs you money. Now that's commitment.