In his book "Crossing the Chasm", published in 2002, Geoffrey A. Moore discusses the Adoption Life Cycle-a model for understanding the acceptance of new products.
Moore indicates that our attitude toward technology adoption becomes significant, from a marketing perspective, any time we are introduced to products that require us to change our current mode of behavior or to modify other products and services we rely on.
For example, when Crest promises you whiter teeth, it is a continuous innovation. You are still brushing your teeth in the same way with the same toothbrush. When Ford's new Taurus promises better mileage and Dell's latest computer promises faster processing times and more storage space, these are both continuous innovations. As consumers, you don't have to change your ways to take advantage of these improvements.
Conversely, when Ford introduces an all-electric car or Crest introduces a no-toothbrush mouthwash, these are discontinuous innovations requiring not only the consumer to change but also the infrastructure.
Many other examples of disruptive technologies and their inherent effect on our habits and comfort zones can be given, but you get the point.
When a product or service is introduced to a market it faces relative degrees of acceptance as well as oppositional resistance based on personalities and their respective tolerance to change from their comfort zones.
In its' life cycle, there are five levels, phases or buyer types a product/service can traverse through. These include innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.
Innovator buyers pursue new technology products aggressively. Many times they seek them out even before a formal marketing program has been launched. The Apple iPhone and nano-anything are examples of such innovations pre-marketing demand by the innovator buying group. At the very root they are intrigued with fundamental advance and often make a technology purchase simply for the pleasure of exploring the new device's properties.
Interestingly, there are not very many innovators in any given market segment. However, winning them over is very important at the outset of any marketing campaign. The reason is because their endorsement reassures the other players in the market that the product does in fact work.
Early adopter buyers are like innovators in that they buy into new product concepts very early in their life cycles. However, they are unlike innovators in that they are not technologists. They are buyers who find it easy to imagine and understand and appreciate the benefits of a new technology and how it relates to their other concerns. When they match, early adopters are willing to base their buying decisions upon it.
Because early adopters do not rely on well-established references, preferring instead to rely on their own intuition, they are key to opening up any high-tech market.
Interestingly, this is the stage where most new technologies find seed monies to foster further development and product enhancements.
Early majority share some of the early adopters ability to relate to technology, but ultimately they are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They are content to wait and see how other people are doing with the product before they buy.
Typically, they want to see well-established references before investing substantially. This segment represents approximately 33% of the whole adoption life cycle. Therefore, their business is key to any profits and growth.
The late majority shares all the concerns of the early majority, plus one differentiating element. The members of the early majority are comfortable in their abilities to handle a technology product, while the late majority members are not. Therefore, they will wait until the technology becomes an established standard, and even then they demand a great deal of support. They tend to buy from large, well-established companies. This segment too possesses 33% of the members of the total adoption population.
The laggard group of buyers represents those who lack technology and want nothing to do with anything new. Laggards are generally considered to be not worth consciously pursuing on any other basis.
The first gap in the adoption life cycle is relatively minor, but even here unsuspecting ventures have faltered. This gap is between the innovator and the early adopter buyers. It's a gap that occurs when a hot new technology cannot be readily translated into a major new benefit, such as nanotechnology in the paint and coatings markets. The enthusiast loves it for its promise but broad practical adaptation thus far remains elusive. Another example of a product that fell through this first stage gap is desktop video conferencing.
The gap of major concern and the one most formidable and unforgiving in the product transition is the next step in the evolution of a product introduction. This is the gap between the early adopters and the early majority. This gap is dangerous in many ways but the most important threat to understand is that it typically goes unrecognized.
The main reason this transition can go unnoticed is that with both groups the customer list and order size can appear the same.
The early adopter is buying some kind of a change agent. By being the first to implement this change in their industry, the early adopters expect to get a jump on the competition. In the 1970s and early 1980s we saw Lilly Industrial Coatings developed advanced water-based coatings in tempo with the then pressing EPA deadlines only to have EPA "forgive" the dates, thus allowing other competitors to catch up. Lilly expected a radical discontinuity between the old solvent-based and the new water-based technologies to occur and they were expecting to become the champion of change in this dynamic. It didn't develop broadly as a result of EPA sliding the dates.
In contrast, the early majority wants to buy a productivity improvement for existing operations. They want to minimize the discontinuity with the old ways. They want the technology to enhance the established ways, not overthrow it. Above all, they do not want to have to de-bug somebody else's product. By the time they get it they want it to integrate with their existing system.
Because of these incompatibilities, early adopters do not make good references for the early majority. Also, because the early majority's concern not to disrupt their organizations, good references are critical to their buying decisions. A catch-22 is developed as a result.
In our next column, we will address methods to enhance success despite this dilemma.