Believe the Hype (Cycle)

Published by Margaux Smith on

How many of you have been frustrated by the hype of the ‘next big thing’? Our whole sector experienced it last year when #nomakeupselfie and the #icebucketchallenge took off – ‘create a campaign just like that for us’ said our boards and bosses.


You and I know that’s not really the way online fundraising works. But just as often, we’re wondering – does it work at all? How much time should we be investing into trying new things and learning about different channels when it seems like some of them are everywhere one moment, and then have disappeared the next.

And if we’re working in a digital role at a charity or a digital agency, we’re meant to be ahead of the curve – expected to explore the new things enough to be an expert and advise how much time, money, and resources they deserve.

But is that right? Should we be chasing the forward momentum in order to add value to our charity or our clients? Or should we be perfecting the proven methods?

My gut has always guided me towards the latter. Spend most of your time and effort where you can generate the most revenue. But I understood where the opposing camp was coming from. Putting all your eggs in one basket can be risky when it comes to online fundraising. Things that performed well six months ago, may completely bomb today. Diversifying your channels can protect you from a failed campaign.

So last week, when a couple of hundred Australians gathered in Melbourne for Digi Raise 2015 (a fundraising conference focused on raising more from digital sources), I was on the edge of my seat, nodding and tweeting, when the UK’s Bryan Miller showed a slide explaining ‘The Hype Cycle’.

It wasn’t anything that most of us don’t intuitively already know, but he framed this particular concept with such clarity that it finally made sense of so much that I hadn’t been able to quite articulate before.

Looking back through Bryan’s work with his consultancy, Strategy Refresh, I learned that the Hype Cycle has been used for years by technology consultancy, Gartner, to “illustrate the adoption of technologies through the lifecycle of hype, disappointment and (in some cases) the eventual delivery of practical benefits”. Bryan has wonderfully adapted this cycle for digital fundraising, updating it every couple of years.

So what exactly does all this mean? As shown in the charts below, the Hype Cycle comprises five phases:

  1. Technology Trigger: the breakthrough, product launch, or other event that generates significant press and interest.
  1. Peak of Inflated Expectations: A frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but typically more failures.
  1. Trough of Disillusionment: Technologies fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press abandons the topic.
  1. Slope of Enlightenment: Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.
  1. Plateau of Productivity: the benefits become widely distributed and accepted, and increasingly stable.

It’s interesting to compare this chart that Bryan made in 2012:













To this one, shown last week at the conference (please excuse the excited blurriness):





What has changed in the past three years?

  • Mobile apps have come a long way, now moving up the slope of enlightenment
  • QR codes are sitting comfortably in the trough of disillusionment – but that doesn’t mean they are gone for good. It just means the hype is over. Interesting way to think about it.
  • Social media or social networking still hasn’t moved much. We’re still trying to figure out how to best make that work for fundraising.
  • And on the way to the peak of inflated expectations these days? Wearables, contactless payments, 3D printing, Bitcoin.

I love the way this chart makes such clear sense of digital fundraising and where our attention needs to be. The Plateau of Productivity is where the money is being made right now, and where we need to be testing and refining (email, SMS, Facebook, mobile optimisation, etc). We should start exploring and paying attention to things that are moving up the Slope of Enlightenment, so that we’re not surprised and left behind when these become the new normal.

But the new shiny toys and ideas that are at maximum visibility – maximum hype? Let’s leave those for the commercial world to figure out while we work on making our donor dollars reach that much further.

Margaux Smith

Margaux is currently living in Sydney, Australia, working closely with incredible clients at Flat Earth Direct, creating digital and direct mail campaigns with them to help change the world. This Canadian fundraiser misses her compatriots in London and Toronto, where she learned almost everything she knows, but is enjoying the Australian sunshine a little too much to leave any time soon.

1 Comment

Mike Zywina · June 22, 2015 at 18:57

Thanks Margaux – this is a really interesting read.

Just a shame that the 2015 slide is so difficult to read – I’d certainly love to get a copy of the original if possible!

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