How to Find and Attract Early Adopters

High-tech market development requires the involvement of early adopters, the second wave of product purchasers following innovators. Acquiring early adopters is a crucial step in the development and potential of an early-stage product or technology.

Early adopters are always looking for new technologies in order to achieve a revolutionary breakthrough that will lead to a dramatic competitive advantage in their industry. They are attracted by high-risk, high-reward projects and are not very price sensitive because they envision great gains from adopting your new technology. They typically demand personalized solutions and fast response.

Influential Role

This group carries significant respect and influence within an industry or market. While Innovators are few and more on the periphery, early adopters are greater in number and more integrated into a society giving them a strong level of leadership. These individuals may be role models for the later majority groups and can be tapped to increase adoption rates with their influence. Think of this group as responsible for vetting innovations for the mainstream market.

For an innovation to move forward, it must be approved and accepted by several early adopters. Enlist a trial group and provide ample support as they test your product. Listen for modifications, adjustments or fine-tuning that they suggest; early adopters have an excellent sense of what will work for the mainstream majority.

The common myth is that anyone who stands in line to be the first to buy the newest high-tech gadget is an early adopter. That is incorrect. Early adopters are not just “early users,” there’s much more to them.

A different way to think about an early adopter is: “someone who doesn’t like incremental steps.” They are people who are looking for revolutionary change. Early adopters have goals that are often audacious and provocative…..and always inspiring.

Early-Adopter Marketing Campaigns Usually Fail

There are two characteristics of early adopters that make most early-stage “marketing” campaigns totally ineffective:

  1. Early adopters are attracted by high-risk, high-reward projects that benefit them directly. They envision great gains in competitive advantage in their industry from adopting your new technology. This means that an early adopter in the legal industry (for example) won’t care about your new product or innovation unless you can somehow tie it to gaining a competitive advantage in the legal industry. This vertical orientation makes conventional, horizontal attempts to attract early adopters — social media, customer surveys, advertising, etc. — completely ineffective.
  2. An early adopter can’t gain a competitive advantage and realize his/her dream if others in the industry have equal access to the same technology or product. So using testimonials or referrals as a marketing technique will make other early adopters look for alternative solutions. In some industries, research has proven that early adopters don’t even like each other.

The most effective method of finding and recruiting early adopters is through a technique called “infrastructure relations.” It is a way of identifying the best early-adopter candidates, and then using word-of-mouth communication to deliver a tailored set of messages to those targeted individuals.

The following video is an example of providing “early adopter messaging” to people in the green building industry, so that it attracts those who are naturally interested in gaining a competitive advantage:


Common Misunderstandings

Last but not least, there are typically two areas of misunderstanding when it comes to early adopters:

  1. A given person is not necessarily an early adopter in all situations. In other words, a person might be an early adopter of says mechanical innovations, but a late adopter of biological innovations.  This is why you will never identify an early adopter with a survey or through an online questionnaire. The past behavior of an early adopter means nothing in terms of future behavior.
  2. Just having an early adopter as a customer is not enough. There are other requirements that affect how well an early adopter helps your product succeed. These requirements are:
  • the early adopter must have visibility in your target market.
  • he or she must be willing to serve as your “public representative” for promotional purposes.
  • and the early adopter must be receiving the advertised benefits of your product and ideally has quantified them.

Early adopters are the difference between success and failure for most high-tech companies and startups. It’s through them that we gain a deeper understanding of what the majority of the markets care about. It’s through them that we increase our knowledge of what customers need, and the real value we can create.

If you’d like to talk about ways find and attract early adopters in your specific market or industry, please contact Warren Schirtzinger.

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