Several tech people spoke with loathing about Google. One of the notions seemed to be that this corporation, made virtuous by its determination not to be like Microsoft, is now quite a lot like Microsoft: large, dangerous, another brand behaving badly. The slogan "don’t be evil" sloughed the negative. Interesting.
Is this true? I don’t know and I hope not. But it might be early warning. Diffusion theory tells us that the future can be read if we can just get to the top of the diffusion path. If the early adopters are bailing out, someone like me, a middle adopter, might eventually follow suit. I won’t know why I’m now longer pro-Google. I just won’t be. This is the way that brands come and go. This is one of the ways Google eclipsed Microsoft.
The diffusion theory here comes from the German sociologist Simmel. This says that adoption runs like a pig through a python. The earliest adopters take hold of the pig and then three things happen.
1) The later adopters go, "Pig! Yes, please. Now that I know about it, and now that it has been approved by my betters, I would very much like some pig."
2) The early adopters go, "Oh, please. Now that our lessers are consuming pig, we’re not interested" and they bail out.
3) Eventually, the later adopters notice that the early adopters have bailed, and they bail, too.
Thus does a bump run through the python. As each later group adopts, each previous group repudiates. (Of course there are always extenuating circumstances. Adoption is also decided by the value created by competing parties. Simmel’s theory accounts only for the effects of admiration and imitation.)
Now, the marketing community is keenly interested in buzz, word of mouth and the tipping point. But many marketers seem to believe you get to keep the early adopters. They act as if the python keeps filling up from one end to the other. In their view, apparently, the adoption process is not a running bump. It’s a filling up.
For these marketers, all we have to do is to ignite interest and watch diffusion happen. We never have to worry about what we might call the classic Simmellian question: what are our early adopters doing, and what happens when they bail?
Last night, I might have been listening to the early adopters signaling that they are done with the brand. And it can only be a matter of time when an middle adopter like me begins to have doubts. This is the moment for Google to intervene, and reprogram the diffusion effect. That’s what marketing’s for. Maybe it’s time to reach out and rebuild the relationship with the early adopters.
I might be wrong. Maybe the word-of-mouth community is all over this. Would love to hear.