How The Product Adoption Cycle Drives Strategy.

They Come In Waves


The product adoption cycle is simply the sequence of customer types that purchase your product from the time it’s launch to the time it’s phased out. This is because customers behave differently in response to product adoption decisions.

Some customers appear ready and willing to try anything new. Others prefer to wait, watch and evaluate before jumping in. You’ll even find those who won’t act until they have little or no choice.

How The Product Adoption Cycle Works

At the onset, it must be stated that there are several variables in play when gauging how a product is initially received and how it progresses through its adoption stages. For instance, business reputation, competitive landscape, pricing, supply, demand and other industry dynamics have a big influence on the adoption cycle.

The adoption curve groups customers according to their responsiveness to the new product. These groups are aptly named – innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Each group displays a unique set of characteristics and responses to new offerings as they move through the lifecycle.

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1. INNOVATORS

This is the first group of individuals that adopt a new product, particularly something innovative. Innovators are prone to alpha test products, especially those that claim superiority or improved efficiency over the status quo.

They tend to be smitten by new ideas or new practices and are willing to accept some level of uncertainty.  They are typically aware that the products they adopt may fall short of promises or even fail to gain mass appeal. But, being amongst the first to assess it, gives them a rush.

This customer type usually has strong connections with the product category and often voice their likes, dislikes and opinions to an extended audience. You’ve perhaps subscribed to a few on social media. They enjoy talking about a product even before it’s launched, sometimes brandishing a pre-production prototype.

2. EARLY ADOPTERS

The next customer type is the early adopters. By proportion, they are larger than innovators. They have a high degree of opinion leadership and tend to influence later customer types in their purchase decisions.

Early adopters practice more diligence than innovators, preferring to secure more information, experience or feedback. They generally share their evaluations and opinions of the products to a larger audience too.

They are prone to making data-driven comparisons with competing products, addressing pros and cons before lending a final verdict.

3. EARLY MAJORITY

This customer group has a lower risk appetite than the previous ones, preferring to be fully convinced that the product is worth adopting or switching to. As a result, they tend to be slower in the adoption process.

They aren’t opinion leaders, but rely on opinion leaders to gain information and deeper insight into the product. They need to be convinced that the new product is superior to their existing alternatives. The early majority is more diligent with their resources and will not commit to anything without comprehensive study.

4. LATE MAJORITY

Individuals in this class will adopt an innovation much after the average member of society. They are skeptical about new technology and are more risk-averse.

They also have very little opinion leadership and have minimal interaction with those that do. They tend to adopt a new product after it has been vetted and largely accepted by society.

5. LAGGARDS

Laggards bring up the rear of the adoption cycle. They prefer the tried and tested traditional practices. Their risk appetite is virtually nonexistent and are often apprehensive of change.

This customer set depends on a close social circle and tends not to seek opinions from outside. Finally, their adoption is somewhat forced rather than willful.

Both late adopters and laggards are inclined to hang onto technology that is a generation or two behind the latest available.

Why Is The Product Adoption Cycle Important?

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT & TACTICAL MARKETING

This adoption cycle is important when it comes to product research, testing and marketing strategy. During product development it is not uncommon to tap innovators and early adopters and bring them into the development phase.

This helps with better user-focused designs, ultimately delivering the best possible product to the mass market. These adopters help build word-of-mouth which heightens the impact of other marketing activities.

That’s why influencer marketing has become so popular in recent times. It’s also a generational thing. Think about YouTube product/tech review channels. Their existence is based on this premise.

Innovators and early adopters may be invited to behind the scene walkthroughs and launch events. Their natural desire to review and share sets in motion a parallel marketing opportunity that adds so much more value for businesses.

STRATEGIC MARKETING

Ultimately, the essence of the adoption curve is to tailor marketing activities to the stage in which the product operates.

Generally, in the beginning, marketing activities center around building product awareness. Marketers employ more feature-benefit communications.

As the product picks up pace, the next step would be to show customers supporting evidence. For instance, user testimonials or case studies, demonstrating that the product really does have merit.

As more of the target market is covered the focus may shift to using stronger promotional efforts to mop up more sales or tap into the late majority who are highly skeptical to begin with.

As the product phases out, marketing spends taper off.  This is especially so because laggards aren’t very receptive to marketing anyway. It’s also because resources need to be devoted to the next wave of iterations that could be ready for launch.

Things To Keep In Mind

I deliberately omitted age, social status and percentages of any kind that are typically used by most marketers. In my opinion, it’s better to concentrate on the psychographic and behavioral aspects of the groups instead.

As I mentioned in the beginning, purchasing patterns demonstrated vary between product categories and even within them. The response to a new iPhone is not the same as a Samsung Galaxy, although both brands would still encounter the same groups of customers.

In my opinion and experience, there are no absolutes when it comes to customer adoption types. However, there are estimations drawn from various studies. Innovators account for 2.5%, early-adopters 13.5%, early majority 34%, late majority 34% and laggards 16%.

Studies also indicate that social status, education level and income decline as you proceed through the stages. Again, this is not carved in stone. I’ve seen highly educated and successful individuals hold out for years.

That’s why, for me at least, psychographics play a bigger role in how the adoption curve can be used to align with the appropriate marketing strategy. Only, research and data over time will help you build your own profiles.

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