If we’re being honest, our society largely follows the masses. Most laws are governed by majority votes. The most influential people of our time have the highest number of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers; and we merit creators (of any kind) by the volume in which they sell. It seems like a logical process: If the masses are taking to something, it must have value, right? Not always. Blindly following popularity can diminish creativity and innovation.
When I was younger my mother would quip—in response to my wanting to do what the other kids were doing—that if everyone jumped off a cliff it wouldn’t be in my best interest to follow (Geez, Mom! Let me live!). But, this is what many of our consumers are doing. A great number of people use products, without having done substantial buyer’s research, simply because it’s the most popular. In turn, companies are rarely creating products and services that solve problems; they are creating simply to sell. For innovators, this can be frustrating. How does a startup, an individual, or a company with a unique idea penetrate a market that strongly encourages mass consumerism? And how do we get longstanding brands to become more innovative with their marketing communication strategy?
The answer is surprisingly simple. Find the early adopters.
“Early adopters” is a term more commonly used in technology, but every industry has its share. If you subscribe to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, early adopters are only 13.5% of society. These individuals are the first to use a product as soon as it becomes available. They aren’t particularly concerned with following the crowd, although their opinions are usually highly respected by their peers. They want innovation and are the ones who will provide the best constructive criticism—and if the product works, they will be the most loyal. If there are flaws in your product, the early adopters will be an early warning system that alerts you of issues before your product goes mainstream. Finding the early adopters means giving your service, product, or company a chance at penetrating a new market place with great influence.
Diffusion of Innovation Theory
So, where do you find the early adopters? To start, you must identify the problem your product or service is solving. Early adopters aren’t talking about products; they’re talking about their issues that need solutions. As your company begins introducing a new product, find the place where individuals are talking about the problems your product addresses—forums, blogs, social media, etc. When you find those individuals, don’t pitch the product. Rather than engaging early adopters by leading with the product, you must showcase your passion for solving their problem.
In high school, I was one of the first to use an iPod. You could say I was an early adopter. It was a small-ish device that allowed me to bring my music everywhere I went (highly important for a high school student shuffling between home, school, and track practice). Having an iPod, which fit seamlessly into my pocket, made it a lot easier to jam out during a time when my backpack was filled with notebooks and ridiculously heavy textbooks. There was no need to carry my CD player and CDs (more weight). I only needed to load my playlist, scroll, and hit play.
It was that simple. Problem solved.
It wasn’t long before I began seeing my classmates and friends with their own iPods. Steve Jobs and the innovative team at Apple knew they would make money, yet it was their passion for giving music enthusiasts a new way to experience their favorite artists that led to the creation of the iPod. The passion around the functionality of the product was translated all the way through Apple’s marketing communication strategy. Remember the silhouetted dancing people? Steve Jobs was brilliant in identifying problems, a lot of times before consumers knew they even existed. His ability to identify a problem and focus on user experience motivated the creation of Apple’s products (can you say, iPhone?).
Companies don’t have to look far to find the early adopters and they don’t have to work arduously to create new waves in the marketplace. It starts with taking an honest assessment of what your company is offering and why. Then, it’s empowering the early adopters by providing a product or service that solves problems they feel passionate about.