When the ferris wheel was first invented, the ride was so popular, prestigious and unprecedented, that riders were given a certificate testifying to their experience.
It featured the headshot of the engineer, the official measurements of his design, a stamp of authenticity from the manufacturer, a limited edition passenger number, even a signature from the fair president.
What’s even more interesting, though, is that the existence of the certificate soon lead to a market for counterfeits. About a year after the ride’s debut at the fair, a local newspaper ran an article reporting that people who never visited the fair, but wanted to make a successful bluff that they did, could buy a fake certificate at a newsstand for ten cents and impress their friends.
Let’s unpack the various implications of this story.
First, the innovator created a memorialized moment with a personalized artifact, and that made word of mouth easy to spread. Their certificate was a social object worth saving and sharing. Are your colorful brochures actually influencing customer decisions?
Second, the innovator converted a ride of a lifetime into a badge of honor. They shifted their customers from being observers of the brand to achievers with the brand. And this elevated their social status, which made them more likely to brag to others. That’s the real ride the ferris wheel took people on. Do your customers join your brand, or just give you money?
Third, the innovator created something worth stealing. The phony certificates became a testament to the inherent remarkability and aspirational nature of their creation. Every other vendor at the fair would have killed for that kind of piracy and plagiarism and parody. But their boring products kept them trapped in obscurity. Are you doing something worth copying?
That’s where innovation lives.
At the intersection of memorable, sociable and stealable.
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What kind of ride are you taking your customers on?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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