This is a little love note to some people who will never read this.
For the rest of you, let me provide a bit of background. There’s a group out there in the world that is (finally) of great interest to the business and marketing folks. They’re called “Early Adopters” or “Influencers” or any of a number of names that marketing drones and high priced consultants are willing to pull from shadier portions of their anatomy. i call ’em geeks. You know, nerds, computer literates, the folks that spend hours gazing at 70+ Hertz monitors and communicate best via keyboard.
The theory being that these are the folks that “influence” others. They’re the ones that generally try out new tech, improve it, and then become increasingly religious about it so that it finally drills through the denser matter of their surroundings and other folks start picking up on it. These are the folks that discovered the Internet, email, web, instant messaging (IRC to you old-timers) and id Software when all they had to offer was Castle Wolfenstien.
If you’re part of the 93% and discovered this post by mistake, they’re the folks far ahead of you. In fact, you probably know a few. If you didn’t find this by mistake, you ARE the 7% and do your best to influence those around you.
May God have mercy on their souls.
Thing is, influencers are SIGNIFICANTLY different than the normal audience. Much like college professors, the best they can ever hope for is that the folks they tend to talk to pick up a tiny fraction of what they offer. Usually stuff that takes the least amount of effort to pick up.
Ok, back to the topic at hand. Yo’ product weenies, pay attention:
Influencers use weird crap. They use Macs and Linux, Mozilla, and other eminently hackable systems. They don’t generally run Windows and IE. Note that this is in stark contrast to the greater unwashed who do use that stuff.
What it means is that if you want to go through the effort of trying to capture the attention of the influencers, you have to offer them a product that they will actually use.
It also means factoring in that they’ve got to beat the drum for A Good While before the masses pick up on it.
The Clever General realizes this and places effort in trying to build a system that can run on Mozilla under Windows, Linux and Macs (Painfully easy by the way) before readying the product on IE. You’ll have weeks to do the IE work and add polish. Hell it can look like a pile of steaming crud but so long as it works and has a fairly open API you’ll get more press than you can ever imagine.
The Foolish man ignores that and instead builds a very pretty system that works for the 90% audience only. You’ll get some press, probably a few notes, but nothing like what you expect. And you’ll blow your chance.
You try to beat this into people and still they’re amazed that things didn’t work as they planned.
First off, understand two things that Influencers provide. One is a set of semi-religious minions. These are folks who trust the opinion of the Influencer for whatever reason. i, for instance, am pretty low on that list. i’ve got my list of favorite toys that i try to get other folks to use for various reasons, but in all honesty, my group extends out to maybe 20 people. Positive marketing directly to me means reaching maybe 15 minions at best, with maybe another 20 or so sub-minions picking up the message. Ok, but not fantastic in terms of effort. Marketing to someone like Jeremy Z or John Battelle would be better since they have far larger reach.
The other is that they provide a way to get quick media attention (and that’s a huge win for marketing folks). Here’s a real life for-instance. About a month ago there was a post on Slate about how most SUVs are illegal to drive on residential California streets. The story was picked up by a number of blogs, and sure enough the local TV media had an (uncredited) story about it about a week ago. i’ve seen the same thing happen with other stories that did start specifically with a blog entry.
Thing is, i know that there is at least one media outfit that regularly reads my blog. How do i know this? Easy, i traced back the IP. Chances are nothing i write here will ever show up in the news, but i’m not ruling that out, even though i know it’d scare the hell out of me. More than likely, i’m just being spidered for content. It’s lazy journalism, no doubt, but it’s nothing new.
Marketing folks see that part as pure gold. It’s a chance to “establish buzz” and get media real estate for whatever they’re producing, and frankly it’s also nothing all that new.
Heck, pharmaceutical companies are masters of this by offering doctors pre-written papers promoting whatever medication or treatment they’re pushing. Doctors like it because it gets them articles and increased notoriety.
Again, i don’t think that you need to only market to geeks in order to be successful. i think that geeks are a valuable asset and (provided they can or are willing to use your product) a fantastic way to get word out about your product that will boost your early adopter rates and get you higher initial revenue. Putting together a system that they can’t or are unwilling to use and then marketing it to them is simply a waste of time.
Something those Influencers will be more than happy to let you, and the rest of the world, know.