The evolution of ‘Relevance’

June 9, 2011

What is relevance really and why is it so important for marketeers?

Let’s use some evolutionary social psychology to explain relevance … When human social systems evolved, it was crucial to let through only those products or ideas that contributed significantly to the group.

If all new ideas could easily pass, every commonly held believe by the group would be attacked by any new idea. The social glue of the system would quickly fall apart and the group would quickly become an assembly of isolated individuals.

If on the other hand not one single idea would pass, you would get a hyper conservative social system, very stable indeed, but not flexible towards the environment. If such a system faced a changing environment, it was not able to change its course. Such a social system would soon be overruled by one more adapted to the environment.

Relevance is the perfect instrument to let a social system balance between stability and evolution. If relevant,  ideas or products are quickly adopted and diffused by the gatekeepers in a social context. They are the relevance specialists in a specific domain. Irrelevant topics are ignored by the gatekeepers and thereby stay banned for their social context.

Relevance and gatekeepers are crucial cogs in the social adoption mechanism. This ‘Social Adoption Mechanism’ was designed by evolution to allow the social system to react to its changing environment, while maintaining a high level of stability.


Spear B: the birth of the first brand

May 30, 2011

Most probably, the first brand must have appeared long before human beings were able to speak. It could well have happened on a moment as the one I’ll describe here …

For long, this tribe in Northern America has been hunting and staying close to a herd of buffalos. But due to a cold period, the herd has migrated towards the south, leaving our tribe with a food problem. Their hunting techniques and equipment have been finetuned during the last decades to attack buffalos. Spear A has been proven very useful in penetrating the buffalo’s skin. Erik, the blacksmith (avant la lettre) who invented this spear A, has spent his entire live developing and refining his innovation. His son, Björn, learned a lot from his father but developed his own technique in crafting spears. Despite his father’s instructions, he focussed on a sharper spear, less secure when thrown at the animal, but able to penetrate a thicker type of skin. Björn has practiced this new spear on different kinds of wood, improved it, and tested it over and over. Björn even argued that it would allow them to hunt down the biggest animal of them all … the mammoth. Unfortunately, noone would care to listen to his fantasies, not for the least his own father.

Johan, who is very aware of the problems his tribe is facing, is willing to take a risk. As a trusted opinion leader, he believes in Björn’s spear. He asks some of his blacksmith friends to have a look at it, to change the grip of the spear and to lighten the weight so it can be thrown from further away. When he considers spear B to be ready to give it a try, the tribe assembles some of its best hunters and equips them with Spear B. The hunting of mammoth had begun …

I may hope this story illustrates how the first brand could have been born, making use of only word-of-mouth (actually, the first form of WOM must have been sound-of-mouth or gesture-by-hand :-)) and the SAM (social adoption mechanism). Spear B was the perfect answer to a changing environment and consequently an emerging need within the social system … Björn had the answer, Johan linked the innovation with the emerging need. The SAM did its job … it’s some plain and simple marketing.

Communicating with the SAM (Social Adoption Mechanism)

December 12, 2010

Communicating with the SAM (Social Adoption Mechanism) is not about reaching as many individuals as you can = the only law in the media landscape I know.

Lessons from social psychology show us how we can efficiently communicate with the SAM by incorporating some subtle rules.

When you want to talk to your innovators

  1. identifying and localising your innovators = your innovator channel
  2. don’t invade their private space … show respect and be honest about who you are
  3. let your expert people bring the message … they speak the same language (get your marketing boys/girls outta there!)
  4. the message is expert level … focus on technical details, authenticity, …
  5. they like passion about the product and expertise … show some
  6. don’t pamper or reward them … this is what they choose to talk about
  7. listen to feedback on your message
  8. use snowball sampling to reach more innovators of your category

Read the rest of this entry »

SAM explained: when Rogers meets Social Psychology

December 12, 2010

The SAM (Social Adoption Mechanism) is a mix of Rogers’ diffusion of innovations and social psychology.

Rogers starts from the individual, he identifies innovators, opinion leaders, early marjority, etc. and describes why and when each of them adopts.

SAM changes this perspective and considers the group, the tribe, the social context as the unit that innovates. All of Rogers’  types are mere cogs that allow the SAM to innovate efficiently. It might be less intuitive, because we think as individuals, but once you’ve looked at innovations from the SAM perspective, it may shed a different light on how you approach your consumers.

Applying the SAM to your ideation funnel

December 9, 2010

So you think co-creating is a good idea, but let me ask you a question:

Do you want your opinion leaders to define your product functionalities? Do you want your product geeks to define your product design?

I guess not. Sure, co-creating is a wonderful thing, but be careful who you co-create with in each step of the process.

Identify innovators, people who use your product for a specific purpose, and upgrade your product with them. Identify opinion leaders, generalists, and work with them so this new upgrade will get socially desirable.

The efficiency of your ideation funnel will be so much higher if you incorporate these simple lessons.

Good luck … or don’t leave the future of your product to luck and have a healthy chat with wenovate!

Self-monitoring: the difference between innovators and gatekeepers

July 14, 2010

Our sociometer gives us signals. It warns us if our behavior is not appreciated by significant others … Relationships that are for some reason valuable to us, undergo a certain degree of pressure and devaluation. On the other hand, the sociometer gives us social joy when we feel more appreciated than normal.

The sociometer indicates a state self-esteem below or above our regular level. Pain as well as joy urge us to react. We want that pain to go away, or find a recepy for that joy to stay. The manner in which we react to that pain or joy largely depends on the situation and the personality of the subject.

One personality variable that explains a lot of the variability in the way we react to social pain is self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is a term proposed by Marc Snyder in 1972. It differentiates people based on the degree in which they adjust their behavior on the social context they’re in. People low in self-monitoring are relative consistent in the way the behave, the opinions they ventilate, etc. Those high in self-monitoring change their behavior depending on the social context of the moment. Their behavior is less consistent.

Innovators are generally people who score low on self-monitoring. They are passionate about their domains, and don’t let their opinions be influenced by the social context of the moment. They follow their own beliefs within the domain and prefer to share their ideas with people with the same passion. They get their positive social feedback from being consistent, trustworthy an potentially valuable because of their knowledge and expertise in their domain.

Gatekeepers on the other hand must be attentive for what’s relevant at this very moment in this very social context. They score high on self-monitoring. This makes their behavior much more inconsistent in time and in social context. They get their positive social feedback from linking novelties with a relevant need in the social context.

Winning the soccer / marketing game? Manage the team, not the players!

July 5, 2010

If we have learned one thing from this world cup soccer in South Africa … it’s the best team that wins, not the best selection of individual players. ‘Best’ in this context is than referred to by soccer analysts as well-balanced, working for each other, complementary, etc.

In contrast, psychologists have for long considered low self-esteem as the shortcoming of the individual players themselves. However, curing a player’s low self-esteem can only be done by taking into account the context of the team and the position of the player in that team. He will only feel better if the context in which he plays is better suited to expose his qualities.

Likewise, marketers have been trying to manage consumers as individual players, not teams. By pushing the message to a mass of individuals, they did improve their sales. However, if you pull the right strings of each of the diverse players of the team, the same goal will be reached far more efficiently. The SAM (social adoption mechanism) helps us to understand how such a team of players/consumers collaborates, following the rules of the game.