On July 23, 1915 my great-aunt Margaret was the first person to be killed by an automobile in the State of Ohio.
My grandfather talked about that day on many occasions, describing both the circumstances and the aftermath. As traumatic as the loss of a sister was for my grandfather, his most detailed descriptions were about the reporters who swarmed around him in a feeding frenzy demanding he answer two questions: 1) did the death of his sister mean cars were not safe for the public to use? and 2) should cars be outlawed?
In 1915 less than 10% of all families owned a car. Which means almost every type of vehicle in popular use was horse-drawn. Cars were still a new idea and most people felt that faster horses would be a better innovation. Market research revealed people didn’t think cars would catch on.
As it turns out, that experience of growing up listening to my grandfather talk about the public’s reaction to the introduction of the automobile was (in retrospect) my first exposure to the concept of “diffusion of innovation.”
What I’ve learned is the story-hungry press swarming around my grandfather in 1915 was a reflection of the concerns of a majority of the people. Whereas car companies were busy promoting the great new benefits of automobiles, the mainstream population was focused on “what happens if something goes wrong?”
This event in 1915 illustrates the quintessential difference between early adopters and the mainstream early majority. Early adopters represent about 12% of the population and they are looking for a fundamental breakthrough. They are comfortable with risk and will therefore move at a faster rate to adopt new innovations (like the automobile), even without traffic laws, or mandatory drivers education, or a plethora of standardized gas stations and automobile service centers. On the other hand, the early majority and the rest of the mainstream population primarily wants to reduce risk.
We can see this exact-same dynamic taking place in both the solar and cleantech industries today. Solar companies AND early adopters are focused on the breakthrough benefits of renewable energy — saving the environment, creating energy independence, and saving money.
But the vast majority of the population (82%) would rather know: “what happens if a manufacturer goes out of business and I can’t get a proprietary part to repair my solar system?” Or “what if my solar panels prevent the fire department from putting out a fire and my house burns down?”
The unfair part of this dynamic is mainstream prospects will genuinely show interest in your cleantech innovation. But they won’t even THINK about buying until they feel safe.
Addressing the risk-related concerns of a mainstream audience using industry standards, product intangibles, and a supporting infrastructure are the keys to vast wealth for companies that make and sell solar and other cleantech innovations.