Ask the founder of any startup or mid-phase business what they hope to get out of a media strategy and they’re likely state the following: To be the next big thing! Indeed, the hype machine of the tech press has hooked founders on the dream of coming up with a great idea, product, or service—and letting the media do the work of garnering mass adoption for them.
There is no question that the tech press has a significant role to play when it comes to generating interest and attention for your product. But it’s also true that it is a risky strategy to rely on the press alone to do this for you. There are two reasons for this: one is that it very often won’t work. It is important to remember that it is the exception, rather than the rule, that some positive or extensive coverage will catapult your business into the mainstream. While it can certainly be a game-changer if it does, relying on it with some naïve hope without any other marketing or outreach plan is a mistake you’re likely to end up paying for.
The second reason it’s risky to rely on the media to do your promotional work for you is one that is discussed far less frequently: it can sometimes backfire. While the spotlight of being dubbed “the next big thing” is no doubt heady, it also brings with it a whole host of problems and potential headaches, and huge responsibility. If you have over-promised or even over-estimated your capabilities or offerings as a company— and those promises get covered extensively by the media—it can be hard to reclaim the narrative. What’s more, if there is hype around your product it becomes even more essential you live up to it—even if you find you want to pivot to a new use for your original design.
A perfect example of this hype backfiring is Google Glass. Heralded early and often as the “next big thing” and the harbinger of the wearable revolution, Google Glass quickly became a victim of its own success. Because it was coming from such a reputable company, no one doubted that Google would be able to fulfil its promises. But it turned out there were major roadblocks that the company did not foresee when it launched an aggressive campaign targeted at media influencers.
Michael Mullany, general partner at US venture capital firm Icon Ventures, was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “Google Glass wasn’t ready for primetime and they made a huge deal about it and they shouldn’t have. Hype can be useful in some situations and destructive in others. When you go to market early and the technology’s not ready, it turns off customers and then when you do have it ready they’re not willing to give it a try.”
Another issue that commonly crops up around the hype machine is when the tastes of the media and investors don’t align with the tastes of the public at large who need to become your users. While media attention can certainly help you garner users, it’s not a foolproof way to success. In other words, users still have to resonate with your concept and want your product, app or service. If, for whatever reason, your idea is not clicking with a wider user base, media attention is unlikely to fix the problem for you.
If you’re a founder or entrepreneur wanting to avoid the pitfalls of hype, your best best bet is to follow the advice of one branding expert who was quoted in The Guardian: “Make everything you present to the market evidence-based. Hype can very rarely be justified by statistics and figures, so you should limit predictions to what you can demonstrate and avoid the terminology and ‘puff’ that normally goes hand in hand with hype.”