Everyone knows at least one guy who waits in line outside an Apple store on launch day to be one of the first to purchase the latest iPhone, iPad or other tech gadget. Or maybe you, yourself, wait until that friend brings home the new iPad, and you ask politely what will become of the old one, hoping to score a deal.
Marketing industry experts have names for both you and your friend: “innovator” and “late majority,” respectively.
If you are in business, it helps to know how your products or services—as well as your customers—fit into the product adoption life cycle. Innovators and “early adopters” are the folks who prefer trying new things. In marketing, it makes sense focus your attention on attracting your own audience of innovators and early adopters who will help get the word out about your product or services.
One of my favorite movies is the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy, a clever comedy about a rube played by Tim Robbins who becomes president of a toy company and introduces the hula-hoop, which becomes wildly successful overnight. The plot is a bit more complex than that, but this is Hollywood, and it is fun to watch the scene where the boy picks up a hula-hoop and starts using it just as an entire school full of children lets out for the day. Naturally, they all run off to the toy store to buy hula-hoops and a craze is born.
Product adoption doesn’t happen as quickly as it did in The Hudsucker Proxy, nor is it as entertaining, but it does happen, and it’s good to pay attention.
There are five basic stages to product adoption, and there are five corresponding types of people for the different stages: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
This theory has a surprising history: Early 1940s Iowa farmers who, in a research study, were being introduced to new seed innovations. The vast majority refused to embrace the new, hybrid corn seed, even though it had much higher yield. Sociologists observed that once certain influential farmers adopted the new hybrid seed, others followed suit. Within a decade, all farmers used the hybrid. They labeled the influential farmers, “innovators.” Early adopters came next, and so on.
Innovators were different from other farmers. Their networks and influence extended well beyond traditional community boundaries. They accessed research and discussed the new corn seed with outside experts, and they brought their insights and conclusions back to their communities. Once the early adopters were firmly on board, other farmers followed suit.
Author Geoffrey Moore picked up the theory in his 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm, suggesting that with respect to technology products and services, there is a significant chasm between the early adopters and early majority, and that it takes a significant amount of energy and capital to cross the chasm and to attract mainstream customers.
The bottom line is that innovators are important -- regardless of whether you are launching a new type of corn, a new restaurant, or a new software application. They are important not only because of their extended influence and ability to spread word-of-mouth communications about your products and services, but also because they are willing to be guinea pigs for your brand. Innovators tend to be forgiving, and they relish the opportunity to try out new products and services, happily providing reviews and giving feedback to the members of their extended networks. They will even give feedback to you, so you can make tweaks and fix bugs as quickly as possible.
Think about the people who have stood in line for any of Apple’s new releases. They all realized that the new iPhone, iPad or laptop was likely to have bugs and flaws, but they waited nonetheless. They love being innovators.When you are launching your newest product or service, think about who you want to market to first. Try to line up the most influential and innovative people in your network, and get them on board. They are likely to be your innovators. They will accept a less than perfect service, so long as you listen to their feedback. They will also spread word of mouth about your offering, and their early adopter friends will help to “catapult you across the chasm” and into satisfying results for your business.