Every campaign is unique, from a new product launch to a membership drive — but wouldn’t it be great if there were some general principles that govern success or failure?
Maybe there are.
They come from a fifty-year-old textbook called “The Diffusion of Innovations,” by Everett M. Rogers. Rogers studied how Iowa farmers adopted new technologies, in order to discover how innovative ideas spread from user to user. In doing so, he created the now-common consumer categories like “early adopter” and also first recognized that each type of user required a separate strategy to encourage adoption.
This isn’t new or secret information, Geoffrey Moore’s business classic “Crossing the Chasm” is based in part on Rogers’ research, as is the 2012 business best-seller, “The Lean Startup.” In fact, “The Diffusion of Innovations” is one of the most cited research works ever written.
And if you think this theory only applies to technology, you’d be wrong. In a follow-up, “Entertainment-Education and Social Change,” Rogers also showed how the same principles can be applied to innovation in society and culture.
So why bring it up now? Because it is worth reviewing every time you enter the marketplace — for products or ideas.
Here is a quick summary of the principles:
Why Some Innovations Fail to Take Root
The Geoffrey Moore’s business classic “Crossing the Chasm,” expanded on Rogers’ theory, focusing on the most difficult steps in adoption: from Innovators to Early Adopters to Early Majority. Innovators are fans of technology and explorers. They are enthusiasts, a group that is forgiving of complexity, glitches and rapid change. Early Adopters, however, are harder to please. They will buy into the dream and use unpolished products, but are looking for breakthroughs, not simple improvements. The Early Majority is pragmatic, risk-adverse, and quick to move on.
Innovators are Enthusiasts
Appealing to these very different user types requires understanding their needs. Tech enthusiasts will try a technology because they desire to be first. They don’t mind glitches, but they want the truth– without spin. And they want to test the product inexpensively.
Early Adopters are Evangelists
Early adopters are easy to sell but hard to please. They will take expensive risks on new products, but they are not looking for simple improvements, they are looking for breakthroughs. Most important, when they have problems or questions, they want access to the company’s experts. When early adopters find products they like, they are quick to spread the word.
The Early Majority are Pragmatists
The early majority cares about quality, support and reliability much more than the early adopters, but are loyal once won over. They are also reasonably concerned about costs and like a good deal.
What Separates the Innovators from the Early Adopters
Visionaries think of themselves as smarter than their competitors. They like to do things themselves, build things themselves. They are very, very interested in technology and will try widely divergent products, simply to experiment. Early Adopters are looking for solutions, breakthroughs and new approaches.
How to Win
According to Moore, there is only one clear path to introducing innovative products:
- Target a specific niche market
- Dominate the market, forcing out your competitors
- Expand into a mainstream market
If you target too big a market, you’ll attract competitors. If you don’t dominate your market, no matter how small, you can’t attract the early majority that favors market leaders.