Making new things intelligible, that’s the job of marketing. This is when people in product development labs reach out to planners, advertising creatives, strategists and, even anthropologists, and say,
"We get what this does. How do we others to get what it does."
This morning I was impressed by a marketing device from Nanosolar. Nanosolar has just announced the manufacture of the world’s first printed thin-film solar cell in a commercial panel product. This cell has low-cost back-contact capability. Nanosolar can now sell solar panels for as little as $.99/Watt. Nansolar panels can deliver 5 times the current of any other thin-film panel on the market. This is "an intensely systems-optimized product with the lowest balance-of-system cost of any thin-film panel."
Ok, you lost me somewhere around "back-contact." It’s not that I am stupid. It’s not that I’m not listening. It’s not that I can’t image what an innovation like this might mean to the world. I get that this break-through could materially change the life chances of millions of people. So hat’s off to Nanosolar. There ought to be a fire boat in New York harbor celebrating right now. Seriously.
The problem is that the more I learn about the innovation, the more my attention begins to wander. Something about "systems-optimized" and "balance of system cost," I think. This language makes me blink rapidly and then eventually loose control of the focal plane altogether. I just end up staring.
It’s a real marketing problem. At the very moment, I am introduced to innovation, it begins to move away from me.
So Nanosolar did something really clever. (Something else really clever.) They put one of their solar panels on eBay. Now there is no chance that I am going to buy this panel. The current bid is $10,300.00. (Honey, you’ll never guess what I got at auction!) But the fact that I could buy a panel somehow makes it thinkable. Oh, it exists in the world. Oh, its circulating in the economy. Oh, it about to be the center of an auction drama. Oh, I could own it. All of these things make this grand innovation more particular, more real. I turn out to be pretty bad at grasping the significance of this new solar panel in general. But a single solar panel on auction, this I can grasp.
It looks like Nansolar will sell the panel. They have 83 bids at this writing. But the auction will have created much more value as a way to send this brilliant innovation sailing out into a world that needs it so badly. In this case, eBay works not so much a way of selling an innovation as a way of marketing it.
Roscheisen, Martin. 2007. Nanosolar Ships First Panels. December 18, 2007. here.
For the ebay auction site, go here.