How to Select Products and Avoid the Hype — If You Really Want To!

by Hugh BrownstoneLeave a Comment

A reader wrote to us about a bad experience he’d had with a new product reviewed by another web site. He told us:

“…it would be cool if you could do an article on how to evaluate or shop for new products without getting caught up in the hype…”

Here’s the thing: we need hype.

Let’s try that again using a different perspective.

It was Everett Rogers who helped us understand – back in 1962 with his book Diffusion of Innovation – that commercially successful innovation relies on people he and others termed “innovators” and “early adopters” – people whose very being, whose psyche requires that they assume risk in order to be first to have the new thing. They are needed to prove to everyone else – the early majority, late majority and laggards, Rogers and others labeled them — that the new product/service/thingamabob is worthy of consideration, purchase and use.

Rogers’ work is every bit as relevant today as it was then, and is in fact a basic component of social media and product marketing: the key is to get the innovators and early adopters engaged, who in turn become brand ambassadors and provide the “social proof” the others need.

It’s why we’re inundated with “new and improved” or “groundbreaking” in advertising, reviews and political campaigns.

Hype.

Yes, I am on occasion guilty as charged (I plead multiple enthusiasms and an excitable personality).

three cups

Now of course, many innovations fail. That’s the nature of risk and reward. Thus one might well ask, “how to avoid the pitfalls of hype?”

The answer to that question is a stunningly simple three-step solution:

  1. IGNORE the hype (don’t engage with it at all);
  2. WAIT until the product/service/thingamabob is officially launched and vetted by other people;
  3. MAKE SURE you really want or need it (more on that in a future installment); and
  4. READ with an open but questioning and curious mind set.

This approach is why many people refuse to buy the first model year of a new car (because it’s better to let someone else deal with new product recalls). It’s why some doctors refuse to prescribe new drugs, and instead rely on generics (because generics are only available after patents expire, they’ve been out long enough for most side effects to reveal themselves). It’s why some municipalities in the U.S., at least for a short time at the beginning of the automotive age, preferred horses and and imposed partial bans on the darned things: horses were simply more reliable, less noisy, less polluting (really?) and less dangerous.

And it’s why some people (like me) read many reviews of the same camera, or lens or technology (RC copters, anyone?): no point chucking out the investment in one system for another, only to find out the new system isn’t all that it’s really cracked up to be.

Especially in a hobby or profession like digital video.

On the other hand, for some of us it’s simply great fun to be a pioneer or an explorer – we love what’s new because it challenges us to reconceptualize what we can do, and when properly harnessed we can do amazing things with “new.”

Just think about that array of Canon DSLR’s used in the “bullet effect” in THE MATRIX.

Or the pain we go through to take a digital SLR and turn it into a truly functional filmmaking device.

So, like any complex system (of which capitalism, it can certainly be said, is one), we need and should respect all five types of adopters – even laggards.

A good starting point is to know yourself.

Enter the world of review sites, forums, discussion boards, YouTube, and — Kickstarter

You already understand the value of review sites and breaking news sites – that’s why you’re here at planet5D. We scout the world around us to bring you the new and noteworthy, saving you a great deal of time and effort. And our communities melt expertise and group intelligence to give you the social proof you need to make informed decisions.

For the right kind of people, Kickstarter is amazing and takes you to the next level. Builders, creatives and visionaries can reach out directly to innovators and early adopters and receive funding and word of mouth not possible any other way. For the funders, it’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor often reserved only for the very few “in the know.”

It’s a potential win/win.

Yet it can also backfire on all concerned. It’s one thing to raise $400,000 on Kickstarter (itself a tremendous accomplishment), but it’s quite another to deliver the new new thing on time, quality, budget, and expectation.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a multi-year delay in a product I eagerly signed up and paid cash for. But I’ve been an entrepreneur, and I know how tough even with the best of intentions and competence a new product launch can be.

I continue to wait patiently and wish my entrepreneur great success.

Your mileage may vary: it all depends on your point of view and your appetite for uncertainty.

If you are a potential funder willing to take risks to acquire the new new or support a family member of friend – and can either afford to get burned or have deep knowledge of the offering – Kickstarter is a great and powerful tool.

But if you’re looking to score a breakthrough product at a breakthrough price because you can’t afford the price of what’s currently in the market, I have only two words for you:

CAVEAT EMPTOR.

Sure, you may get lucky. But luck is no basis for conducting business.

The most important thing you can do is recognize yourself in Roger’s classification scheme and act accordingly.

If you can’t afford or tolerate a miss, take a pass. You’re not an innovator or early adopter, AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. We need people like you. See simple solution, above.

If you are a risk-taker, kudos – go for it. We need people like you, too.

But don’t get whiny if things don’t work out perfectly!

What's your take on product selection? What's your take on Kickstarter? Do you have a success story or an abject failure to tell? Please share it with us in the comments below!

(cover photo credit: snap from NewsThump)


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