The Technology Adoption Lifecycle is a model that describes a market’s acceptance of a new technology in terms of the types of consumers it attracts throughout its useful life. It is probably the most well established model in “new product marketing” because it provides useful insight at all stages of market development.
The underlying thesis of the Technology Adoption Lifecycle is that innovations are absorbed into any given user base in stages corresponding to psychological and social profiles of segments within that user community. The process can be represented by a bell curve with definable stages; each associated with a definable group, and each group making up a predictable portion of the whole community.
The prescription for success in introducing a new product or technology into any community is to work the curve from left to right, focusing first on the innovators, growing that market, then moving on to the early adopters, growing that market, and so on. To do this effectively, it is necessary to know and understand the psychological characteristics of each group of buyers.
The psychographics of each group in the adoption process influences the development and dynamics of the market. For example, each group places a different value on product intangibles, and on endorsements or references from other groups. As products move through the adoption process, intangibles and user references assume more importance.
Also critical to understanding the adoption process is the underlying motivation of each group. Innovators for example love to be first to try something new. Whereas early adopters are motivated by their desire to transform their company or life into something much better.
Often, pioneering new products lose their initial prominence because a new entrant is more successful in product positioning based on a more effective mix of intangibles. This can be the case even if the second product is not technically superior.
The concept of dynamic change in the perceptions of products is reinforced by the concept of the adoption process. In 1957, researchers at Iowa State College were able to track the diffusion of information and purchase patterns of a new product: hybrid seed corn. They found that purchase and use (or adoption) behavior fell into understandable patterns. They found that five “segments” of an adoption population could be described. They noted the different characteristics of persons in these five groups, and hypothesized about the way word-of-mouth influences purchase behavior.
The technology adoption lifecycle was originally developed in 1957 at Iowa State College. Its purpose was to track the purchase patterns of hybrid seed corn by farmers. Approximately six years later Everett Rogers broadened the use of this model in his book, Diffusion of Innovations.
The following psychographic profiles were abstracted from the North Central Rural Sociology Committee, Subcommittee for the Study of the Diffusion of Farm Practices. The Diffusion Process. Ames: Agriculture Extension Service, Iowa State College, Special Report No. 18, 1957.
They have larger than average farms, are well educated and usually come from well established families.They usually have a relatively high net worth and, probably more important, a large amount of risk capital. They can afford and do take calculated risks on new products. They are respected for being successful, but ordinarily do not enjoy the highest prestige in the community. Because innovators adopt new ideas so much sooner than the average farmer, they are sometimes ridiculed by their conservative neighbors. This neighborhood group pressure is largely ignored by the innovators, however. The innovations are watched by their neighbors, but they are not followed immediately in new practices.
The activities of innovators often transcend local community boundaries. Rural innovators frequently belong to formal organizations at the county, regional, state, or national level. In addition, they are likely to have many informal contacts outside the community: they may visit with others many miles away who are also trying a new technique or product, or who are technical experts.
They are younger than the average farmer, but not necessarily younger than the innovators. They also have a higher average education, and participate more in the formal activities of the community through such organizations as churches, the PTA, and farm organizations. They participate more than the average in agricultural cooperatives and in government agency programs in the community (such as Extension Service or Soil Conservation). In fact, there is some evidence that this group furnishes a disproportionate amount of the formal leadership (elected officers) in the community. The early adopters are also respected as good sources of new farm information by their neighbors.
The early majority are slightly above average in age, education, and farming experience. They have medium high social and economic status. They are less active in formal groups than innovators or early adopters, but more active than those who adopt later. In many cases, they are not formal leaders in the community organizations, but they are active members in these organizations. They also attend Extension meetings and farm demonstrations.
The people in this category are most likely to be informal rather than elected leaders. They have a following insofar as people respect their opinions, their “high morality and sound judgment.” They are “just like their following, only more so.” They must be sure an idea will work before they adopt it. If the informal leader fails two or three times, his following looks elsewhere for information and guidance. Because the informal leader has more limited resources than the early adopters and innovators, he cannot afford to make poor decisions: the social and economic costs are too high.
These people tend to associate mainly in their own community. When people in the community are asked to name neighbors and farmers with whom they talk over ideas, these early majority are named disproportionally frequently. On their parts, they value highly the opinions their neighbors and friends hold about them, for this is their main source of status and prestige. The early majority may look to the early adopters for their new farm information.
Those in this group have less education and are older than the average farmer. While they participate less actively in formal groups, they probably form the bulk of the membership in these formal organizations. Individually they belong to fewer organizations, are less active in organizational work, and take fewer leadership roles than earlier adopters. They do not participate in as many activities outside the community as do people who adopt earlier.
They have the least education and are the oldest. They participate least in formal organizations, cooperatives, and government agency programs. They have the smallest farms and the least capital. Many are suspicious of county extension agents and agricultural salesmen.
The research demonstrated a number of elements of purchase behavior, including the dynamic nature of how products are purchased. Innovators, for example, are motivated by being first, while late adopters are primarily interested in a bullet-proof product.
The primary value of the research was the development of the idea of an “adoption process.” New product acceptance could finally be understood and even diagrammed.