All products go through a lifecycle once launched, called the product adoption curve. Our look at the product adoption curve gave us plenty of insights into the 5 crucial segments to target through a product lifecycle; a standardised model that shows the types of customers who will buy your product and when they are likely to do so. The length of time between each segment is not set and there are many variables to consider. But, generally speaking, this is the trend that most product launches take.
The product adoption model is a curve and, within it, there are five distinct sections:
- Innovators (2.5% of sales)
- Early adopters (13.5% of sales)
- The early majority (34% of sales increasing to a peak)
- The late majority (34% of sales decreasing)
- Laggards (16% of sales).
In this piece, we’ll take a look at the importance of the second segment, early adopters. We’ll explore the importance of this cohort as well as how to target early adopters for your product launch to make it a success.
Who are early adopters?
Early adopters are the second set in the product adoption curve, accounting for 13.5% of product sales. This segment or early adopters are different to other customer segments because they are known as visionaries and influencers within their realm of expertise. While innovators (the first segment) are happy to take risks, early adopters are more risk-averse and their professional reputation can be altered by the products that they stand behind and promote.
Some of the main attributes you can expect from early adopters are:
- More risk-averse than innovators, but less so than other customer segments
- Eagerness to share product feedback and criticisms
- Less likely to use something that’s already in wide circulation – preferring to be the first.
What is the importance of early adopters for product launches?
Getting early adopters is critical to the success and acceleration through your product adoption curve. Without influencers and tech enthusiasts rooting for you, it is very difficult to overcome ‘the chasm’.
‘Crossing the chasm’ is an issue that business owners and marketers have faced for decades. The chasm is a significant gap between the early adopters and early majority segments – this is the point where a business turbocharges from a startup to a scalable mainstream business.
Innovators and early adopters make up 16% of product sales, and tipping the scale from selling to this segment to the early majority (34%) is crucial for business success. However, the early majority won’t adopt a new product or service until it is tried, tested, proven and recommended by thought leaders – and early adopters are the cohort that drives this.
How can you target early adopters?
As thought leaders, early adopters need more information than innovators to make a decision on a product. By their nature, early adopters are very tech-savvy. Due to their expertise and know-how, they are often difficult to please. Common traits which can cause problems when targeting early adopters include:
- Younger, more progressive adults with good incomes
- A lack of response to forms of marketing
- An often skeptical and critical attitude
- Their opinions matter in their social circles and as part of their job roles: while getting behind a product that is a huge success in the early stages can be career-boosting, getting behind the wrong product can be embarrassing or humiliating.
- Propensity to want to “get in first” so they can recommend products and services to their peers, family and friends.
For these reasons, you shouldn’t try to target early adopters with the same blanket approach as you would with the majority of consumers. Instead, use the five steps below to get in front of this critical crowd.
1. Tweak your marketing messaging
Early adopters need to be reached by marketing messaging and communications that meet their needs. They will generally be aware of a problem that needs solving, will have some idea of the answer and would be on the lookout for an appropriate answer and solution. Early adopters thrive on the thrill and excitement of being the first, so your messaging should support this. Remember that flattery goes a long way – there’s very little harm in letting influencers know that you respect their opinion and constructive feedback!
The early majority, on the other hand, would prefer messaging that shows that the product is already tried and tested. This comes in the form of:
So, not only do you need to target early adopters with relevant marketing messaging, the outcomes of winning over this audience can naturally create the messaging for the following cohort.
2. Use appropriate marketing channels
A scattergun approach of generic messaging on Google, LinkedIn and Facebook ads won’t cut it for early adopters. The way they see it, ads on these platforms are indicative of a mainstream product with wide market appeal.
Instead, find your early adopters where they’re at. Oftentimes, this audience won’t be found scrolling Instagram and Pinterest. You’ll find them:
- Via their blog, website or Medium profile
- On Slack – community channels as well as their own
- On Twitter, using specific product and niche-related hashtags
- On forums and dedicated subforums such as those on Quora or Reddit.
As well as promoting your product on these channels, be sure to network and contribute to the communities too, to showcase authenticity and grow your brand awareness. The more organic and authentic your interactions are when networking, the more likely you are to receive useful feedback.
Expansions in social media and search engine marketing also mean that tech-savvy early adopters can be targeted specifically. On Google Ads, there are audiences for:
- Those in the technology industry
- Those actively in-market for business technology, consumer electronics, enterprise software
- Avid investors.
In-market audiences are those whose Google search data and interaction history shows a pattern of early adoption and technology usage. So, if you do decide to use ‘standard’ digital marketing practices to reach early adopters, make sure that you use the right targeting to do so.
3. Prove yourself with an MVP
While nailing your marketing messaging is key, the real proof is in the pudding. If you’ve followed the product adoption curve thus far, you should have an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in place that has already been iterated based on feedback from your innovator segment.
Remember that early adopters aren’t looking for a product that already has all the bells and whistles. Instead, they want to get in early on a new product with the likelihood that it will solve their issues. Luckily, the customer experience (CX) of the product itself is less important at this point too, as long as the product delivers the desired results (or close to this at this stage). However, first-class customer service is absolutely critical to keep early adopters engaged and regular users of the product.
To retain both innovator and early adopter segments, it’s important that you gain plenty of customer feedback from them and implement this. As two groups of technophiles with high levels of expertise, both groups expect their insights and commentary to be used to help inform the future of the product. Using this information will also help you to ‘cross the chasm’ to create a product that’s ready for the early majority.
4. Create partnerships
Before launching your product, pairing up with a partner brand that offers a complementary product and already has an established (and happy!) user base is a great way to start – ideally, they will be at the early majority phase of their own product launch. There are lots of ways to increase brand awareness and initial sales by partnering with another business:
- Exchange leads
- Drive traffic to one another’s websites
- Piggyback off their marketing campaigns
- Offer a discount on both services
- Offer up-sell or cross-sell opportunities from both brands for a discount
- Find shared PR or podcasting opportunities
- Guest blog on each other’s websites to drive backlinks.
5. Encourage referrals
Although exclusivity is important to early adopters, you can capitalise on their wish to share new products with their friends, family, colleagues and network. Remember that, as experts in their fields, organic referrals will be well-received and can truly accelerate a business.
Here are some successful examples of this working for well-known brands:
In the early stages of Dropbox, they offered early adopters 16 GB of free storage space when they invited friends who then installed Dropbox. After just over a year of this initiative, their user base grew from 100,000 to over 4,000,000.
LinkedIn & Facebook
Both LinkedIn and Facebook reached quick and widespread early adoption by using invitations from current users to non-members to encourage them to sign up and make their own profiles - this created a pyramid of profile creation.
Slack’s approach was an interesting one. By going after end-users first and encouraging them to speak to their friends and colleagues via Slack, they then worked backwards to offer enterprise-level software that their teams already loved to businesses. Slack reached $100 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue) in 2.5 years by using this strategy.
To conclude, early adopters are critical to target for a successful product launch. Marketing your product in the right way to this audience is key, as is getting in front of them in the places they are. Some of the biggest and most successful businesses on the planet grew through early adopter referrals and recommendations, so don’t overlook this crucial segment of your audience.