Technology Adoption Life Cycle
There's a good chance that if you've been around new technology, you've heard about the technology adoption life cycle. This model is used to explain how people respond to product and service innovations that require the end user to change their past behavior. Under this model, consumers self-segregate along an axis of risk aversion with the risk-takers (innovators) on one end and the risk-adverse (laggards) on the other. In between these two extremes are the early adopters, early majority, and later majority.
The best description of this model that I've ever read came from Geoffrey A. Moore's Inside the Tornado -- a book from 1995. In his book he defined the 5 segments as follows:
These are the people who are fundamentally committed to new technology on the grounds that, sooner or later, it is bound to improve our lives. The person you turn to with technology questions is likely someone that falls in to the innovators group.
These are the true revolutionaries in business and government who want to use the discontinuity of any innovation to make a break with the past and start an entirely new future. Their expectation is that by being first to exploit the new capability they can achieve dramatic and insurmountable competitive advantage over the old order.
These people make the bulk of all technology infrastructure purchases. They do not love technology for its own sake, so are different from the techies, whom they are careful, nonetheless, to employ. Moreover, they believe in evolution not revolution. they are interested in making their companies' systems work effectively and look to adopt innovations only after they have established a proven track record.
These consumers are pessimistic about their ability to gain any value from technology investments and undertake them only under duress -- typically because the remaining alternative is to let the rest of the world pass them by. They are very price-sensitive, highly skeptical, and very demanding. Rarely do their demands get met, in part because they are unwilling to pay for any extra services, all of which only reconfirms their sour views of high tech.
This group delight in challenging the hype and puffery of high-tech marketing. They are not so much potential customers as ever-present critics. As such, the goal of high-tech marketing is not to sell to them but rather to sell around them.
The Marketing Strategy
With these customer segments in mind, the typical approach is to seed new products with the innovators so they can help educate the early adopters. When the early adopter's are interested, do everything that is possible to make them happy as they will then serve as references for the early majority which is the group where most of the money is made from a new product or service. Then leverage the success with this large group so that the product matures and stabilizes enough to be of interest to the late adopters. All the while, ignore the laggards and their skepticism.
Sounds good, right? A remarkable model that will guarantee success. Too bad it's flawed. One of my next posts will discuss Geoffrey Moore's explanation why companies often fail to get past the visionaries.