Early adopters are visionary consumers. Able to detect the most innovative products on the market, they are also true influencers with the general public. Their behavior allows them to stand out from the crowd, thanks to their propensity to take risks. In this article, we locate this type of consumer in the broader concept of innovation diffusion. This chart will help you better understand the rank of early adopters among consumers. Finally, we will look at two case studies. We will see how Apple and Sony have gained the trust of these original users.
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- Definition: who are the early adopters?
- How do early adopters behave?
- Presentation of the different adopter profiles
- Early adopters: 2 concrete examples
Definition: who are the early adopters?
Early adopters are the first people to adopt a new technology offering. They serve as a benchmark for the rest of the consumers because they are the ones who make the offer widespread. This type of user is distinguished by their propensity to pay more for an offer they consider more interesting.
They are key elements in the marketing strategy. Brands rely on early adopters to provide feedback on product deficiencies and cover product research and development costs. Indeed, early adopters are very invested in their product/service of choice. They become an integral part of the marketing thinking of companies. They willingly help companies to launch their offer to the general public better.
The term “early adopters” is part of a larger concept known as diffusion. This is the process by which communication about an innovative product/service spreads via consumers. Currently, ICTs are formidable weapons for spreading the word about one’s offer on the Internet. (Rogers, E.M. et al., 2008)
How do early adopters behave?
Early adopters are risk-averse consumers. Indeed, they usually use a product/service they need more certainty about. They do this because they are often unsatisfied with their solution to a given problem.
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Nevertheless, there are many other characteristics of early adopters. Here are 3 of their main characteristics:
- Positive thinking: they know how to adapt to previously unseen consumption situations. In other words, they step out of their comfort zone to try new modes of consumption.
- Digital communication: their presence on social networks is a boon for brands. We assume that this type of people easily appropriates technological innovations. Therefore, they are key communication relays in viral marketing strategies.
- Opinion leaders: as consumers aware of technological news, they are at the origin of a real crowd movement. Indeed, the opinions of early adopters trigger the adoption of the product by the early majority (see summary graph).
Presentation of the various adopter profiles
In his book “Diffusion of Innovations,” Everett Rogers theorizes the progressive adoption of innovative products. He divides the public into 5 categories of consumers. Classified according to their stage of product adoption, Rogers describes the characteristics of the following people:
- Early adopters
- Early majority
- Late majority
- Late adopters
Having detailed the behavioral patterns of early adopters, let’s now tackle the other adopter profiles.
Innovators are at the origin of the innovative product
These consumers work for technology brands and are the originators of innovative ideas. They are passionate about new technologies and believe that their usefulness is indisputable. They are risk-takers, and we are dealing with people who are rather young and of high social class. Also, they benefit from privileged contact with other innovators. They are, therefore, a small, close-knit group with a passion for scientific discovery and knowledge. Finally, they are consumers without customer loyalty. Indeed, they will always prefer the latest products rather than the ultimate product of their favorite brand.
The early majority follow the early adopters
They follow the contribution of the early adopters. This time, this group is composed of many more consumers. They need more time to adopt the latest innovations. This early majority belongs to the upper and upper-middle classes. Now we have left the field of influential consumers, i.e., opinion leaders. Thus, these consumers follow fashion. Finally, the members of this majority are sensitive to activation marketing. Indeed, to convince them, they need consumer opinions or product tests.
The late majority follows the most innovative consumers
The next stage includes the late majority. These consumers need even more time than the early majority before adopting new technology. Their main character trait is skepticism. In other words, their appetite for innovation is quite low. Moreover, their social status is generally below that of the innovators and the early majority. Their consumption habits could be more removable. They are satisfied with relatively classic and could be more innovative offers. They will only buy innovative products when they are widely available in society.
The late adopters are slow to catch up with the rest of the consumers
Finally, the “late adopters” group completes the tableau. Following the late majority’s skepticism, we find consumers with conservative tendencies. Older than the previous categories, these consumers are motivated by traditional purchases. They also stand out from the crowd because of their ability to almost systematically oppose any form of innovation. For this reason, late adopters are the last to adopt a new product/service.
Summary chart: early adopters and technology adoption
Find below a chart from Burke, D. et al. 2017. This one repeats Rogers’ findings on adopting innovative products/services. It represents the previously mentioned consumer categories according to the market share they capture.
Early adopters: 2 concrete examples
Apple and Sony are behemoths of technological innovation, especially thanks to their flagship products: the iPhone and the PlayStation. Here are the cases of these 2 big brands that have succeeded in relying on the decisive contribution of early adopters.
Apple has an excellent relationship with its early adopters. For example, the launch of the iPhone in 2007 is a very interesting research case. With an original price of $599, the company opted for a discriminating pricing technique. In this context, only early adopters could give their opinion to the rest of the population. Indeed, we are talking about a public ready to make financial sacrifices to enjoy the latest technologies. Little by little, Apple has been able to keep a very high price for a product that is increasingly adopted by all population segments. 15 years later, Apple is now the most profitable company of all time.
Sony is one of the leading players in the video game console market. For this, the Japanese multinational can thank its marketing department. However, the firm asked, “How do we renew ourselves and keep early adopters interested after so many years of success?” The answer lies in the launch of the PlayStation. Sony refused to go through traditional communication channels like the E3 show. So, it favored:
- Its digital channels (social networks, website, etc.)
- More local trade shows in the 4 corners of the globe to announce the launch of its new console
This caused a huge spike in interest in this console, which was perceived as difficult to access and even intended for a privileged audience. This marketing positioning shows a desire to remain at the top of the video game world for the next few years.