Every new innovation — every breath-taking change in the order of things — is built on hope and hype. Unfortunately, the things that dazzle us early on also tend to disappoint us eventually.
The question is whether we can (and should) commit ourselves to these new and challenging approaches long enough to realize the benefits they promise.
This change-driving phenomenon has been dubbed "the hype cycle" by Gartner consultants Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino. Their new book, Mastering the Hype Cycle, offers a new way for thought leadership marketers to think about promoting the ideas and innovative solutions they are bringing to market. While the book speaks directly to the buyers, adopters and implementers of new technologies and management concepts, it's just as useful for those of us who are marketing and selling these cutting edge solutions.
"The hype cycle is not a new phenomenon, but one that repeats itself with each innovation that somehow captures people's imagination," they write, noting that everything from the jet engine to the personal computer to biotechnology passed through cycles of hope and disappointment before delivering tangible benefits.
One opening example compares the varying fortunes of Tesco and Safeway in the U.K. as the two firms confronted the hype in the 1990s around "one-to-one marketing." I was familiar with this story because I was working with Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, who coined the term with their best-selling book The One to One Future, at one point in that era.
Bottom line: Safeway gave up when the hype deflated, but Tesco stuck with it — investing in the database marketing and customer management capabilities necessary to build truly personalized customer relationships. Tesco rode out the cycle and has emerged in this decade as the UK's leading retailer, the third largest in the world.
The authors have charted the cycle along 5 stages:
- "Innovation Trigger" — The first phase represents a breakthrough, product launch or other event
that generates significant press and interest.
- "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — In the next phase, a
frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic
expectations. There may be some successful applications of a
technology, but there are typically more failures.
- "Trough of Disillusionment" — Innovations enter this stage because they fail to meet expectations and quickly
become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the
topic or the technology.
- "Slope of Enlightenment" — Although the press may have
stopped covering the innovation and excitement fades, some businesses remain committed to it and experiment to understand its benefits and
- "Plateau of Productivity" — In the final phase, the benefits of the innovation become widely
demonstrated and accepted. The innovation or technology become increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the
plateau varies according to whether the innovation is broadly
applicable or benefits only a niche market.
The challenge for marketers lies in determining how they want to position themselves in relation to this cycle. The temptation to make a big splash as hype builds may lead to problems when the inevitable backlash comes and enthusiasm fades. Consider the media's role in the cycle:
True thought leaders will see this coming and prepare their prospects and customers for the coming slide in market excitement. Everyone enjoys the positive hype, but the real powerhouses are companies that can work through the "trough of disillusionment" to produce the payoffs that had animated the hype in the first place.
Some companies may even embrace the hype implosion, recognizing it as an opportunity to distinguish and differentiate themselves more fully. As rival firms fall off the radar, they will remain steady advisors and guides to their clients — having warned them ahead of time that the frenzy would fade.
The authors speculate that hype cycles will continue to proliferate — and even accelerate — in our globally networked era. Smart marketers will learn how to master this phenonomen — turning the hype cycle into a lever of profitable growth.