Posted in April 28, 2020 - 2:03 pm.by Wayne Martinez
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Critical mass is key to conquering salience bias

As B2B communicators, we are in the business of articulating visions of the future. But even when those visions are crystal clear, people don’t always listen, as Bill Gates lamented recently.

In March 2015, Gates stood on the TED stage and warned of a global pandemic that might be worse than the 2014 Ebola outbreak. “Next time,” he said, “we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market… [the virus] would spread throughout the world very, very quickly… this is a serious problem. We should be concerned.”

Humans are notoriously dismissive of non-salient developments—things that aren’t happening to us, here and now. Like that strange virus in far-away Wuhan. Or those melting ice caps they keep telling us about.

But the salience bias applies to positive change as well. When the internet, smartphones, and electric vehicles each debuted, few believed they would become as ubiquitous as they have. The internet was just for academia; iPhones and Telsas were just for trendsetters and the rich.

At some point, though, they took off. Like a virus, or an internet meme, the spread of beneficial ideas and products is exponential, once they reach a critical mass of adoption. For example, installation of solar power in communities tends to cluster, meaning it starts with one homeowner, and then another, gaining momentum throughout the neighborhood and beyond.

On a larger scale, we know some municipalities are adopting plans for total electrification of their public transit fleets. No doubt, these early adopters will inspire other cities. States like California and Hawaii are drawing up plans for becoming mostly—or completely—carbon neutral for energy usage; other States are expected to follow in their footsteps.

These developments weren’t explicitly planned; they occurred because of the confluence of certain political, economic, and social conditions. But technology marketers have to deliver results to corporate stakeholders. You can’t just wait for leads to happen. So, how do you intentionally reach the critical mass of adoption for your offerings?

A simple answer is elusive, but it may help to strategize in virus terms. First, tailor content format and messages to perfectly mesh with the way your target customers think and work. Next, make your messages easily transmissible (a.k.a. shareable). And finally, persist, and evolve as your customers do. Because it doesn’t matter how small you are (COVID-19 particles are 0.125 microns across, on average), but how tenacious.

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