David-Michael Davies Talks Technology, and “The Frenzy for First”

By christinewatson / / Being the first on your block to get a new toy has turned into being the first on your friend list to get new technology. At least that’s the way things are going according to a survey done by the Webby Awards. The survey findings reveal a unique cultural shift, as the historically small base of early adopters expands to a much broader audience. It used to be that a mere 15% of the population were classified as “early adopters” but data from this survey shows that number has risen to over 56% as a result of social media. Webby Awards Executive Director David-Michel Davies was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the survey, and some possible conclusions that can be drawn from it. ————————– The word “frenzy” makes us think there is an element of mindlessness in the people you’ve surveyed. Would you agree? On the surface, some of the behavior we were interested in exploring seem pretty wild. Why would hundreds of people, every week, wait in line for hours for a pastry? Why would people wait in line eight days for an iPhone. Why do people rush to be the first to back a product that doesn’t even exist? From afar it does seem like a form of temporary madness. But all of us here at The Webbys also recognized that we have all, at some point, been part of that frenzy. Figuring out what made us, and others, want to be first was our jumping off point. Is owning the latest technology becoming the latest status symbol? Instead of, say, cars or expensive jewelry? We think it is a lot more about identity than status. I live in Williamsburg and my family and I sometimes go to the Schmorgasburg – a big food truck market on Saturdays – for lunch. One day last summer, I had what I can only describe as a Disneyland experience. I basically saw this line and every time I thought my eyes had reached the end of the line, it swerved around a tree or a sign, and kept getting longer and longer. When I went to the front to find out what everyone was waiting for, I discovered the now famous Ramen Burger – basically a burger that had a bun made out of ramen noodles. Standing and waiting for this burger, and eventually eating it, doesn’t really connote any particular status. Anyone could wait in the line and it isn’t particularly expensive. But the act of waiting in the line, of taking a selfie in the line and sharing that on Twitter, of checking into the “Ramen Burger Line” – those are all new forms of personal expression. We essentially use these experiences as ways of defining ourselves on the Internet. It may seem silly, and crazy, but it’s true. In our survey of more than 2000 Americans, we learned that seven in ten Americans said they expect what they share to shape others perceptions of themselves, and vice versa. Since so many people have come to rely on a friend’s social media when making purchases, how will this affect my job as a creative in the advertising industry? The good news it that the creative industry is already on the right track. Creating unique experiences for clients that are fun, and sharable is already something agencies have been focused on for a long time. But I think the opportunity is actually bigger than how the industry currently sees it. Today people are actually defining themselves through these experiences. Brands are really benefitting from the increased pool of early adopters because the audience they can target is so much broader. <>How would you redraw Rogers’ bell curve? My instinct is to say that the diffusion of technology has probably normalized even more than when it was studied by Rogers – that some of the early majority has moved into the early adopter phase and some of the late majority have become laggards. But we would need to spend decades doing research, as Rogers did, to really prove that. The actionable thing for us is that everybody making anything should be thinking about engaging their early adopter audience. Can they participate in beta testing, distribution, feedback, or marketing? There is a real interest. Kickstarter raised nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in 2013 for products that, actually, didn’t even exist yet. That is pretty telling. Open-ended question: What conclusions have you personally drawn from this survey? I was surprised to discover that people are acutely aware of how their identities are formed online. Americans are highly engaged in curating their online personas. The vast majority of them realize that how they are perceived online is based on what they share, and that they perceive others in the same way. Sharing is an act of self expression. It is on the one hand obvious, but also kind of heady when you think about it.