It’s hype season again. First, Mary Meeker comes out with her annual “the world is growing at a mind-blowing pace” Internet trends report. Next, pundit after pundit uses those stats in the latest pitch decks to media, analysts and VCs to prove up their own market leadership and thought leadership positions. And each of those decks includes varying shades of hyperbole to break through the white noise.
And then, between June and August, Gartner publishes a series of Hype Cycles that puts it all into context. With a separate hype cycle for more than 100 technology markets, these reports serve as a massively helpful reality check against big promises from tech vendors. It’s worth tracking. (My personal favorite is the Emerging Technology Hype Cycle, which is a terrific time-saver for staying on top of the latest technologies and the pros and cons associated with each one. The 2014 one is due out in August.)
But as is true of so much research, the trick is knowing how to interpret the data. Most hype cycles are used by tech purchasers or investors to help assess the risks and pitfalls inherent in any given tech segment. But there is a more creative application for tech marketers—to use the hype cycle as fodder for no-nonsense thought leadership campaigns. Here’s how to do it at each stage of the cycle:
- Technology Trigger. Something is invented and debuted among a small set of geeks and investors. Expectations start low, and the real question is how this technology will disrupt existing technologies as it matures. This is the “next big thing” phase. Here the communications strategy is to illustrate the most likely ways genuine disruption will show up. How will it impact existing technologies and business models?
- Peak of Inflated Expectations. Something is promoted to the market, usually over-hyped, and positioned as a game-changer. Expectations exceed reality, and the definition of this new thing and what it’s supposed to be is stretched in multiple different directions by different vendors. Here the communications strategy is to challenge myths, guide the public as to how to protect themselves from later disappointments, and establish yourself as a voice of reason.
- Trough of Disillusionment. Something is deployed in the market by early adopters and a few fast followers, and implementation challenges begin to arise. Expectations are not met, and people begin to complain about the technology. Vendors and solutions are swapped out, and the people who chose these technologies are questioned internally. Here the communications strategy is to leverage your “voice of reason” position to explain how to protect your existing investment in this new technology and make it work in the real world.
- Slope of Enlightenment. People either adjust their approach or their expectations or both, and this new technology becomes more intelligently deployed. Expectations begin to normalize against the reality of this technology. Here the communications strategy is to celebrate the customers who were the first to figure out the proper use and expectations for this technology.
- Plateau of Productivity. Here the technology reaches mass adoption and begins to become commoditized and/or ubiquitously included in other platforms. Expectations are completely in line with performance, and excitement levels are minimal. Not much is newsworthy in this phase except for price pressure and all that commoditization brings. The communications strategy here is to look back at technologies in the Technology Trigger phase and see what new innovations will come along to refresh and disrupt the existing technological norm.
So as we enter Hype Cycle season, keep an eye on Gartner’s point of view on hyperbole and overpromising in your tech sector, and take this opportunity to rise above!