What Christmas Lights Tell Us About Ourselves

People tell me all the time that their customers buy based on performance and specs, so it is incredibly important to get those up front. This is where their research misses just a little bit, because people justify their purchase decisions based on performance and specs. However, most people don’t know (or are unwilling to admit) why they selected the product they chose to support with the logic they did.

This even goes for Christmas lights.

Seth Godin believes that Christmas lights show our need to be part of a community. He says it’s the same for most Facebook posts, tweets, and blogs. They’re all ways to share and contribute. I think he’s right.

By nature, we are social animals. Even introverts like me occasionally need to be around people. It has been a key to our species’ survival (safety in numbers), so it’s very much a  part of our social DNA. As such, we subconsciously want to fit in with a larger community, even if we have to do it by standing out. Research has shown that the first person to stand out is rarely as important to the activity becoming a movement as the second person to join. The second person makes it acceptable.

In any neighborhood, the first person to hang their Christmas lights sets the baseline for that neighborhood that year. They are often derided for jumping in too early. However, the second person makes it okay for everybody else to do so. The last person is often derided as much as the first. Both the first and last are too far out on the fringe (especially if it’s by more than a day), and nobody wants to catch the crap that comes with being on the fringe.

For most of us, social pressure plays a much bigger role in our lives than any of us (myself included) are willing to admit. For marketers, this means that success is rarely about speeds and do-hickeys (though important) and much more about making your product or service socially cool. This is true even if the community that finds your product or service is small. Better to be a hit in a small community than largely ignored by all.

Huge success comes when that community consists of a lot of early joiners — the second people in. These are your influential enthusiasts. And they carry the most social impact of all because they’re not so far ahead of the curve that society can’t relate. They’re just far enough ahead that the rest of society aspires to be like them.

Since marketing is all about generating revenue, you don’t want to be the starving artist on the fringe, too far ahead of the curve to be acceptable. There’s a reason that’s called the “cutting edge” or “bleeding edge” — it can be painful. You want to be just ahead of the wave. This is marketing’s sweet spot.

It’s also the coolest place in any community.

Find that spot and as a marketer, you’re golden. Apple does that better than anybody, which is why they have a brand that everybody aspires to be.

Speeds and do-hickeys are still important to help people justify the emotional need to be part of that community. Just remember where they fit in the hierarchy of needs.


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