To successfully introduce a product, it often makes sense to market to opinion leaders and early adopters. When a (usually technological) product is introduced, not everyone adopts it at the same time. Invariably, a small group tries it first, and then eventually adoption spreads.
Studies have shown that the sequence of adoption in society runs close to this model:
- The first 2.5% of the adopters are the “innovators”
- The next 13.5% of the adopters are the “early adopters”
- The next 34% of the adopters are the “early majority”
- The next 34% of the adopters are the “late majority”
- The last 16% of the adopters are the “laggards”
For a new product to take off, the first two groups are obviously the most important ones.
The “innovators” are obsessed with innovation and communicate with large networks about new ideas and things. They are usually first to try a new product and like taking risks. Innovators often have substantial financial resources and often consider themselves “geeks,” but they also are the gatekeepers of the flow of new ideas into a social system.
The “early adopters” are usually more integrated into social systems than the “geek” leaders, and therefore are usually opinion leaders. We look to early adopters for advice and guidance about anything innovative, so they often function as society’s evaluators and judges of innovations. Because these people also have large interpersonal networks or access to structures that convey information (such as the media), change agents try to use early adopters as entry points to the larger society.
A 1999 study showed that innovators and early adopters were invariably drawn from groups with higher socio-economic power and education. In the business world, 11% of early adopters were company directors or senior managers, and 9% each came from middle management/administration, professional or technical groups.
One very good way to market to early adopters is to identify and target the websites and chat groups they visit most often. Usually these are grouped around a product sector.
Of course there are other factors at play, such as regional and cultural differences. Vancouver is considered Canada’s early adoption centre for electronics, while Toronto and Ottawa usually lead in business and politics, and Montreal is often seen as the cultural idea leader.