The product adoption curve is a marketing and social science concept that was developed by Everett Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations. It is an excellent framework for positioning your product to increase the probability of its success. Understanding how consumers adopt products will help you to identify where your product will find the most potential customers and monitor their interest over time.
The driving force behind the decision to purchase something new is strong product positioning that’s informed by the product adoption curve. A company can position its products in such a way that they appeal at different times and for different reasons across the adoption curve. If this is done well, it can lead to higher revenue and customer satisfaction.
The curve has five phases:
- Early adopters
- Early majority
- Late majority and
The innovators are the first group of people who are looking for new, better, and faster solutions to old problems. These brave souls are typically young, wealthy, and have the ability to try new things. They often use the product to solve their own problems and will be fairly opinionated. They enjoy being on the leading edge of innovation because it makes them feel empowered. This is usually a small percentage of the population, about 2.5% in most cases. They have a history of being trendsetters and they are willing to take risks on new products.
2. Early adopters
Early adopters are typically adventurous people who want to be the first to try out "new" products or services. They are usually less risk-averse than innovators, but more so than the general market—so they take their time researching (or looking for great reviews) a product before committing to making a purchase.
It’s smarter to target early adopters because they are more willing to try new things, but they are also more discerning. When you win them over, you have a customer for life. Early adopters make up 10% of the population, but they account for 50% of product purchases.
This is a very demanding group. They will criticize your product for its shortcomings and will be quick to share their criticisms with the public. These people are early adopters because they're willing to take a risk on a new product, but they also want a return on that investment. For this reason, they are willing to invest in your product more than any other group of customers, but they also expect a return on their investment. They want your product to be uniquely tailored to their needs and delivered on its promises quickly. If you don't deliver, their opinion of your company will rapidly decline. So be careful not to disappoint.
They have a big influence on how successful your new product will be. You can get testimonials by asking for it directly, or you could use the feedback tools to collect reviews.
3. Early majority
Those in the early majority phase are a little more hesitant to change than those in the innovator phase. They want to find solutions that work for them and try not to get too experimental. They're not likely to be very proactive when it comes to change, but they will be receptive to new ideas. They're looking for practical solutions that address their pain points. They want things to work for them at the earliest possible time and in the easiest way possible. They will often wait until others have tried a product or service and see how it goes before they adopt it themselves.
They are often considered the most valuable group because their involvement signals that your product has a place in the market. It’s important to get this group on board with your product because they’re likely to influence the other groups to buy it. But reaching this phase isn’t so easy. You need to have a product that appeals to this group in order for them to take interest.
To reach the early majority phase, you need to know who your customers are and then create a product that meets their needs. It also helps if your product isn’t too cheap or not too expensive and it must be able to withstand criticism from people in the other phases. You don't want to make prototypes for these products, but instead, stay flexible enough to make adjustments as needed.
As the product moves from the early adopters to the early majority, it must adapt and evolve to meet their needs and interests. It needs more features and functionality, it needs to be simpler and easier to use, and it needs to address their objections.
There’s a make-it-or-break-it moment in every product lifecycle, called the chasm (See the book Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore) and it’s typically one of the most challenging phases for founders. It is the point at which innovators and early adopters have been fully satisfied and the product moves on to reach a larger audience. This is the point in the product lifecycle where incremental improvements start to fail. This is also where you need to start looking for new innovations that will help you cross the chasm into mainstream acceptance.
This chasm exists because there is a disconnect in expectations between the early adopters and the early majority. For example; When an early adopter buys something, they are usually the only one. When the product is good, they rave about how much it has changed their life and tell everyone who will listen to them about it. The early majority will see this, but not want it - believing that there's no way the product could be that good. This creates a divide between the two groups because they have different expectations for what products should do.
So, for the early majority, it’s usually enough to see that other people are already buying it. They obtain most of their knowledge from social media and want the latest gadget for everyone to see. They won't purchase until there's a consensus about its reliability among friends and family members they trust.
Crossing the chasm means graduating from being an early-stage startup to being a large business with mainstream success. A business crossing the chasm is no longer just a startup looking for funding or looking to be bought by another company. The company has grown enough to where it is now at the point where they are big enough to generate revenue without outside help, but not so big that it can't keep up with demand for its product.
The early majority are a large segment of the population. They’re all around you and they’re not going away anytime soon. They have less time and energy for tinkering, so they’d much rather buy a product that works well out of the box. To them, it’s about functionality, not experience.
4. Late majority
The "late majority" are people who are the most resistant to change. They adopt a new product when it becomes the only choice. They are not as innovative or curious, so they wait until there is no other option to take something on.
That said, the late majority may be less excited about the latest product trends because they want to make sure the product is vetted by their peers. They are typically more cautious buyers, but they can represent a significant part of the potential market because once they are bought in, they tend to buy in big.
The late majority has a different set of interests and needs than the early and late adopters. They mostly want to know why they should buy the product, how it will make their lives easier, and if it is worth the cost. The peak of the product adoption curve is right where the early and late majorities meet.
A key reason why late majority adopters may eventually make the switch to your product is that they do not want to be at a competitive disadvantage. This case is very common with legacy products. For example, think of the struggle Apple had in convincing early adopters of Apple products to switch from Windows or Android devices. If you have a tangible competitive advantage over other products on the market, it will be easier for later adopters to switch because they will no longer be in a position where they are at a disadvantage.
5. Laggards 🐢
The laggards are traditionally seen as people who resist change and embrace the status quo. They are very risk-averse, and will often avoid new opportunities to avoid failure. The primary reason users in this group eventually adopt your product is that not doing so would make things difficult for them.
There are many examples of laggards who finally adopted a new idea due to external forces that include shifts in the industry or other institutions. This is especially true in the technology industry. For example, Apple didn't make much headway with PC users before they released their first tablet. Laggards also need the motivation to change their mindsets, which means new features are key.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many companies were slow to adopt remote working. In fact, some companies still don't allow their employees to work remotely. Companies that have stuck with the old-school way of doing things are now struggling with a lack of productivity and a lack of innovation from their workers.
It's important to remember that each product has a different adoption curve. This means that the type of adopters may differ depending on product. Some products will peak in the early adopters and then go into the mainstream. Others will peak with the early adopters and never move much from there. In all cases, these curves are extremely important in understanding how well your product is doing.