The global technology sector is always abuzz with talk of ‘early adopters’ and their importance to the success or failure of new products. But who are these mysterious people? What motivates them? And why are they considered so crucial to the process of getting innovations off the ground?
How innovations spread
When a company launches a product, whether it’s an update to an existing model or something new entirely, the priority is to build momentum and create chatter both online and in the real world.
If successful, this creates a groundswell of interest within the mainstream buying public – that's who has the power to turn a product into a stellar sales success story.
Everett Rogers’ ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ model shows how groups of consumers adopt new technology at different stages. Early adopters are actually in a second group, he says, after the super-quick off the mark “innovators”. Everett Rogers was a sociologist who coined the 'Diffusion of Innovators' model, showing how consumers adopt technologies and trends over time, and what influences them. This theory has been hugely influential and is still incredibly relevant and important in consumer habits today.
Third comes the mass market, divided into ‘early majority’ and ‘late majority’, and finally the laggards’, who will only buy a new product or service when they are completely comfortable with it, after millions of consumers are already happy with their purchase.
Early adopters – rocket fuel for products
Without early adopters this process grinds to a halt in its initial stages. The product risks being chalked up as quirky and niche, perhaps only enjoyed by the first group on Rogers’ model, who he says represent just 2.5% of all consumers.
Early adopters take all the risk associated with spending on a new product. They enjoy the thrill of buying something that people haven’t experimented with before and they are happy to end up with a faddy item and be the only one they know with the latest gadget before the crowd does.
In doing so they clear a path for the rest of us. They’re the reason why iPhones, PlayStation 4s, smart TVs and wearable technology such as Fitbits and Apple Watch have enjoyed huge global sales. Early adopters also incite businesses to develop technology. Take payment wearables as an example. NFC technology is at the heart of this and it has paved the way for mobile developments such as contactless mobile and Apple Pay. Fintech firms and payments companies like Barclaycard have gone even further and invested in collaborations with fashion retailers such as Topshop and watch brands like Mondaine and Garmin. Without these innovations and the early birds who love them, commercial technology would be stuck in the mud.
How to spot an early adopter
Early adopters tend to be younger, tech-savvy (obviously) and smart. Interestingly, you might also find more of them in countries outside the UK. This is likely the case as developing nations are hungry for tech developments.
According to a 2015 report by research company Nielsen, of 11 markets with the highest proportion of early adopters, nine are developing countries including Brazil (39%), Peru (30%), Colombia (28%) and India (28%). The same study found that although new products have cross-generational appeal, younger people were snapping them up at a much faster rate.
Attracting early adopters
So what’s the psyche behind those who want to be in the know? In reality, it’s really about innovators understanding their audiences and who’s really interested in their developments. Early adopters want to stay ahead of the curve and like visibility of a new product before advertising to the mass market begins to take off. They are often the best brand advocates as they have a keen knowledge of the sector. What’s more, their reviews and comments are influential as they often have a powerful network, especially in the blog space.
Despite the authority of new adopters, the products that have cracked the mainstream have always offered a winning solution for the consumer, improved an aspect of their lives and had a fitting purpose.
And that’s where being an innovator really pays off.
 E Rogers, Diffusion of Innovators, The Free Press, 1983, p23