Don’t Believe The Hype

Growing up in the late 70’s and the 80’s in a city in North America, it was pretty much impossible not to be exposed to the emergence of rap music.  In particular, groups like Run DMC, the Beastie Boys and eventually NWA.  All three of those groups had one thing in common and that was they took inspiration from Public Enemy.

Today’s subject is the name of one of Public Enemy’s biggest hits and is a phrase that has entered popular culture – Don’t Believe The Hype.

I bring this up in a different context though.

When you’re starting out in your online business or even if you’ve been doing it for awhile, you end up being made aware of software or information products that are launching on a fairly regular basis.  In fact, these launches can become a bit overwhelming where every time you go on Facebook your newsfeed is littered with ads or people promoting these products.

The thing is that this is what the product owner wants above all else with their launch – they want it to be everywhere and they want to invoke your curiosity.  Then they wrap that in a scarcity blanket so that what they are effectively doing is creating an event.

That’s when the fun begins because people like to be part of things.  Even if you don’t need the product, you want don’t want to be the only one not taking part.  And if the product owner is really smart, that’s when they start trotting out all the cool kids giving testimonials and promoting the product.

It’s a powerful thing when done well – a scarcity-based event with borrowed authority.

When you scratch the surface though, a well-run launch is just well-coordinated hype.

Working in Enterprise IT for the last twenty years, I’m ridiculously familiar with hype.  This industry has taken hype as a concept and turned it into an art form.  Enterprise IT hype is an industry that has generated trillions of dollars over the last twenty years.

Don’t believe me?  The Global Financial Crisis in 1991 was caused by writedowns and losses from the big global banks of $4.1T.  The Dotcom Bubble bursting resulted in a loss of market cap of $5T for tech companies.  The Dotcom Bubble was entirely a hype driven phenomenon.

So ingrained is hype in the technology industry that market research firm Gartner created the “Hype Cycle” to describe the maturity and evolution of a technology.

Why is this interesting?

Well, I’m watching people go through this launch and the comments by people mirror directly to the Hype Cycle phases.

Right now with this launch we’ve just passed the crescendo of what Gartner calls the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” – people have bought into this product thinking that it will solve all of their problems.

I said we’re just past that point because what’s happening is we’re now headed down into the “Trough of Disillusionment”.  This is where we start to see people complaining that the product doesn’t actually do what it’s supposed to and for the people who bought purely because of the inflated expectations, they’re going to be gutted that their desires weren’t fulfilled.

We’re also starting to see some people who’ve owned the product for the last year or so coming out the other side of that trough.  Some are moving through the “Slope of Enlightenment” where they start to see the real value of the product, albeit delivering well below the inflated expectations and there are other more mature users who are now in the final stage of the Hype Cycle referred to as the “Plateau of Productivity”, the tool serves a purpose and they don’t really think too much about it.

The huge problem with some online product launches is that the product owner is stupidly fueling the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” by telling people that their product solves problems that it probably doesn’t, they make unfounded pronouncements about future results that will never be achieved and in some cases, they say it has features that it doesn’t have.

This is a huge problem for everyone.

For the product owner, they are damaging themselves.  The best case scenario is that some people will come out the other end of the trough of disillusionment and move towards the slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivity.  Customers who go through this cycle always have a lingering negative feeling about the product not quite living up to expectations.

The worst-case scenario for the product owner would be refunds, chargebacks and a significant loss in reputation and credibility with your market.  Many big online marketing product launches can run at 30% refund rates.

For the person buying the product, they often end up worse off than just the financial hit when they buy something that’s been overhyped.  They waste time trying to implement and they distract themselves.  Worse than that though, they lose confidence.  They start thinking that if so many other people have bought, there must be something wrong with them if they aren’t succeeding.

With all that in mind, it’s important to note that marketing itself is a form of hype, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  When you create something new or you want to sell something you already have then you have to build some hype around that.  The trick is to create excitement and anticipation about things you can actually deliver rather than stuff that just sounds good and will sell more units.

The best thing you can do is to question everything about the product –  does it do what they say, why are people saying such nice things about it (are they an affiliate maybe) and most importantly, do you actually need this thing.  If you can ask those questions and look past the hype, you’ll come to a clear decision on the value proposition for you.

Remember what Public Enemy said, “Don’t believe the hype!”

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