High-tech market development requires the involvement of enthusiastic early customers, the second wave of product purchasers following innovators. Acquiring your first customers is a crucial step in the development and potential of an early-stage product or technology.
Early customers 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.
This group carries significant respect and influence within an industry or market. While Innovators are few and more on the periphery, first customers 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 customers. Enlist a trial group and provide ample support as they test your product. Listen for modifications, adjustments or fine-tuning that they suggest; early customers 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 potentially your first customer. That is incorrect. Early customers are not just “early users,” there’s much more to them.
A different way to think about an early customer is: “someone who doesn’t like incremental steps.” They are people who are looking for revolutionary change. Early customers have goals that are often audacious and provocative…..and always inspiring.
Marketing to Early Customers is Difficult
There are two characteristics of early customers that make most early-stage “marketing” campaigns totally ineffective:
- Early customers 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.
- An early customer 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 “market 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.
For example, “early customer messaging” for attracting company executives who are interested in green buildings, might emphasize gaining a competitive advantage by attracting top talent with sustainable facilities.
Last but not least, there are typically two areas of misunderstanding when it comes to early customers:
- A given person does not necessarily want to be a first customer in all situations. In other words, a person might be an early customer of say mechanical innovations, but a late customer of biological innovations. This is why you will never identify an early customer with a survey or through an online questionnaire. The past behavior of an early customer means nothing in terms of future behavior.
- Just having a few early customers is not enough. There are other requirements that affect how well this group helps your product succeed. These requirements are:
the early customer 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 customer must be receiving the advertised benefits of your product and ideally has quantified them.
Your first customers are the difference between success and failure for most high-tech companies and startups. It’s through them that you gain a deeper understanding of what the majority of the markets care about. It’s through them that you increase your knowledge of what customers need, and the real value you 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.