Passionates

Robert Scoble has a nice piece on “passionates”, people who are early adopters of technology. He says that companies need to focus on passionates in order to drive their business forward, as non-passionates just don’t care enough to share and promote you. He makes a really good point: it’s better to have 100,000 passionate users […]

Robert Scoble has a nice piece on “passionates”, people who are early adopters of technology. He says that companies need to focus on passionates in order to drive their business forward, as non-passionates just don’t care enough to share and promote you.

He makes a really good point: it’s better to have 100,000 passionate users than 1,000,000 non-passionate users. This allows you to actually sell a product to those 100,000 people and make some profit at the end of the day. If you have a ton of users, most of which aren’t passionate, then you have a much harder time actually convincing them to give you money for the thing they’re not passionate about.

However, I think Robert misses something crucial in the dichotomy he sets up between “passionate” people and “non-passionate” people. This is the same complaint that I have with Forrester’s research, that they bucket people into being either “this” or “that”…with the implicit assumption that it doesn’t change: you’re either use technology at a certain level or you don’t.

The reality is that people are passionate about some things, and not at all about others. They love some activities and don’t care about others. The activity is what they’re passionate about (not the technology) and when they’re passionate enough they’ll learn the necessary technology as they find appropriate. Passion depends upon the activity in question.

Take knitters, for example. Most knitters are non-passionate technology-wise. They are not early adopters of the latest new gadget, and they’re not scrambling to sign up for the latest social network. Some are, undoubtedly, but most aren’t. They probably don’t care about Twitter, or Friendfeed, or Seesmic.

But they’re passionate about knitting, so when ravelry.com comes along and offers a place for knitters to gather online, suddenly they start to consider actually using a social network because it might be of value to them. They sign up and suddenly appear to be one of the early-adopter passionate people that Robert talks about, when in reality they rarely do this sort of thing but, well, this is knitting and that’s what they’re passionate about.

This doesn’t mean that people using ravelry.com are suddenly early adopters of all technology. It simply means that technology came along to help them practice their passion better, and so they adopted it because the value proposition made sense to them. The way this would normally happen is if some other knitter says “hey, you should check this out”.

This happens to me all the time. I’ll talk to web designers about some new software and I’ll get really excited, talking about in-depth details of how it works. Then I’ll get into a conversation with a photographer about the latest lens they bought and my eyes will glaze over. I just want a no-brainer camera that I don’t have to think about. I’m not passionate about cameras…but I am passionate about other things.

The activity is the thing to focus on, not the technology. Technology enables the activity, and people will get excited about the technology if they’re excited about the activity first and the benefits of the technology has been explained to them. But you don’t make passionate photographers by showing them lenses, you make passionate photographers by showing them pictures that rip your heart out.

That said, I understand the point Robert is making. There are some people (early adopters) who will try out anything simply because it’s new and interesting. But those are technology early adopters…a very small population of people who get a large amount of attention because of their predilection to try new things. A much larger population (although much more fractured) are those people who are already passionate about some activity or other, and can become passionate about new technology as it relates to that activity, but they just haven’t been introduced properly.

Introducing people to a new product properly is the biggest challenge facing companies today. We all rejoiced when the Web came along because it meant that you could sell something to anybody, anywhere, and at any time. I could write my simple blog from Newburyport, MA and have readers anywhere in the world. But the reality is that everyone else can too, and with everybody trying to do the same thing at the same time the cacophony of products and pitches and blog posts is simply deafening.

In other words, the task is not always to make people passionate about something, it’s to show them how technology (or your product, etc) can make them even better at what they’re passionate about. Robert isn’t mentioning FriendFeed every 2 seconds because he’s passionate about activity streams. He’s mentioning it because he’s passionate about reading, spreading, and talking about the latest technology news. That’s the activity he cares about most, I dare say. Technology is merely the enabler of that activity.

So while yes, you should take advantage of early adopters, learning from them and focusing some of your effort on them, you can’t assume that just because people aren’t early adopters they’re not passionate. Passion is more about doing an activity well than it is about using the latest technology to do it.

Published: July 30th, 2008

Currently working on:

The What to Wear Daily Report: The most informative 30 seconds of your day. An email that delivers clothing recommendations and other helpful info based on the weather. Remarkably useful. It's free to sign up.