The Dissemination of Pop Culture

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin (who isn’t) and a subscriber to the email updates coming from his Domino Project, which, in a word, is trying to change how books are published, distributed and consumed by the public.  His weekly newsletter posed this question: Does pop culture change top down or do people always get what they deserve?

I love this question because I think it’s central to so many industries, and I don’t see as much discussion directly about this topic as I would like.  The answer, before I go any further is both.  In a capitalist society, needs will eventually be met by someone, because where there are unmet needs there is an opportunity to profit.  However, you’re insane if you don’t think that everyday new “needs” are invented by brands and their marketing machines that you didn’t even know you had.  GPS is a good example.  iPads are an even better one (they sold 10 million in 2010).

The process typically goes like this: a company puts big bucks into hyping and developing a story around a new product, thus creating a perceived need.  Media jumps in and starts propagating this story.  A small (but vital) percentage of the population hears about this because they’re listening carefully.  Some call these people early adopters.  They buy-in and eventually the rest of the population, who consumes what they see everyone else consuming follows and voila, you have the SUV craze.

This model was pretty cut and dry, but more and more lately we’re seeing it operate in different ways, meaning that how you get to widespread adoption is less clearly defined. In other words, there’s no set path.  Instead, and unless you’re Apple, innovators should focus on what they’re bringing into the marketplace.  Is there a real need or just the opportunity to develop a perceived one?  Is this relevant to a large number of people?  Can the purpose of this product, service or idea be easily understood?

Once these questions are answered, get your product on the radars of that small portion of attentive humans, because you can always count on them to tell you (and maybe others) exactly what they think.

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