How to market across the technology lifecycle

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Journey to the Center of the Hype (Cycle), part I

The Internet of Things will change everything! Artificial intelligence is coming faster than you can imagine! There’s a great future in plastics!

With the world constantly on the precipice of some groundbreaking innovation, the job of the technology marketer can seem impossible. How do you create a differentiated, substantive narrative that doesn’t feel like you’re just jumping on the latest bandwagon? How can you create a story that resonates and attracts buyers over the long term?

In the world of technology research, the Gartner Hype Cycle provides a “view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing a sound source of insight to manage its deployment within the context of your specific business goals.” It chronicles the birth, life and death of a range of topics from advanced analytics and data science to wireless networking infrastructure.

The Hype Cycle is designed to give technology buyers some indication about when—or whether—they should invest in a particular technology or application. Some companies take action in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” phase. We might consider them the disruptors. More enterprises fund pilots during the “Slope of Enlightenment” phase, although conservative companies remain cautious.

If you’re a technology marketer tasked with building a compelling narrative, it’s worth recognizing the Hype Cycle for what it really is: a deconstruction of technology trends on the hero’s journey. By understanding where your technology is on the journey and how your audience might be reacting to that journey, you can create a product narrative that is at once human and heroic.

I’ll back up for a second for those of you who slept through your freshman English classes. The hero’s journey is a narrative template first chronicled by Joseph Campbell. Nearly every great myth in history follows the same basic story structure. A hero is called to action, goes through trials, descends into an abyss and emerges on the other side with a new perspective on life.

Today’s procedural dramas provide some great examples of this. On virtually every episode of Castle, the two main characters, Captain Kate Beckett and author-cum-detective Richard Castle, are called to action by the triggering event of a murder. They go through a series of increasingly difficult investigatory hurdles, culminating in some life-or-death peril. Somehow, they escape the peril to solve the case, often learning an important life lesson in the process.

For better or worse, this framework is an innate part of our identity. We are hardwired to respond to cues within these stories. We almost always cheer for the hero. We tend to boo the villain. Although we may not consciously be aware of it, we may also have a negative reaction to stories that don’t fall into this basic framework. How long would we watch if Castle and Beckett were sent to investigate murders and the pair couldn’t solve them? What if they showed up at the murder scene and the killer showed up, confessed, and Castle and Beckett spent the rest of the episode shopping for a new couch?

All of which is to say that narrative structure matters to your marketing. If your new technology arrives on the scene and it’s already solved the world’s problems, then your audience will tune you out. If you claim to have emerged from the abyss and you haven’t even moved out of beta testing, your audience will sniff you out. Good storytellers—and by good storyteller, I do, of course, here mean technology marketer—can use this structure and build important cues into their product narratives.

Stay tuned. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be going deeper into each phase of the Hype Cycle, talking about specific considerations for your market narrative. Next time, I’ll start with stage 1: the Technology Trigger. Your origin story and call to adventure are critically important to making your hero likable and convincing your audience to come along with you on your journey.

To learn more about the Gartner Hype Cycle, please visit http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/methodologies/hype-cycle.jsp

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.