5 Methods of Identifying Early Adopters

Oct 23, 2019

Thirty-five percent of Americans say they like trying new products, and about fifteen percent say they usually try tech products before anyone else, according to recent Pew research. Whether self-identified or uncovered through market research, these early adopters are important to new product innovation as they’re the customers who sample a product early on and then influence their network of friends and family to buy it.

When you think about identifying early adopters, it’s important to remember the space they occupy in your market. How you develop, sell, and communicate to this group is different than how you would for customers who are further along in the product adopter curve. (As a refresher, the other types of adopters in the curve are innovators, early majority, late majority, and laggards.)

That’s because early adopters wield a particular influence on product innovation and marketing. While not quite the risk takers as innovators, they nevertheless have a thorough understanding of the problems they’re trying to solve and what type of solution they’re looking for.

And because of both their high degree of participation in social media and propensity to review new products, they are often looked to as “thought leaders” among their peers. Whereas an innovator may be too far ahead of a trend to have enough influence over the rest of the adoption curve, an early adopter is prominently positioned to inspire and lead.

Which is why to succeed with a new product in the market, you need to succeed with them. It also means tapping into the gold mine of feedback and information they can provide as you pursue product development and innovation.

But first you have to find them. Let’s discuss five important ways you can identify your early adopters to capitalize on their knowledge and enthusiasm when developing new and better products.


Method #1: Figure Out Your Target Audience (Again)

Many companies struggle to know their own target audience beyond basic demographics. As consumer packaged goods, retail, and technology verticals have evolved, so have these consumers. What you might have understood about your customers a couple of years ago may not necessarily be true today. It’s important to take a critical look at the market again to make sure you know who you’re really dealing with. 

Using a market research method like customer surveys or interviews, for example, and combining the results with big data helps you uncover (or get reacquainted with) your target audience. By blending in UX methodologies like user context and personas, you can sub-segment your audience even further to get to a highly detailed and nuanced understanding of your entire customer base.  

Other tools that expose your audience’s personality traits, such as openness, extroversion, or neuroticism, help you further break down who’s eager to talk about and try new things, vs. who’s content with taking a back seat. And gathering data about social media activity and purchase behaviors can help you complete the picture of your early adopters 

In some cases, they may be a small niche. But if they’re active and engaged (see #2 below), the strength of their influence can make up for what they lack in numbers.

Method #2: Be Strategic about Social Media

Using social media strategically reveals an enormous amount about your target audience. Consumers who are active on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram will regularly make comments and ask questions on company pages. They expect responses and aren’t timid about expressing their likes or dislikes.  

But your early adopters take it a step further. As we’ve already mentioned, they have a keen understanding of the problems they’re trying to solve. And they’ve probably already come up with their own interim solutions until the right product comes along. Observing these interactions on social media helps you pinpoint them. 

The catch, though, is to interact with them in the right way. Your interest in their problems and ideas can capture their attention and invite them into further conversations. Then when there’s a new solution you’re offering or product you’re promoting, you already have a ready-made customer segment vying for first dibs.

Method #3: Meet Your Customers In Person

Let’s say your business is consumer technology and you’re at a tech show. Much like social media interactions, your early adopters are the ones who are spending the most time at various booths or exhibits, asking all the right questions, and showing the most interest. They interact easily and knowledgeably with the industry experts on hand. And in addition to openly sharing their specific problems, they have a good feel for what’s edgy, different, and intriguing. 

Early adopters tend to do more research than innovators typically would, and understand enough about the industry, your products, and your competitors to know when taking an early leap would be beneficial or when they need to hold off for more information.   

A big part of their value to your brand is that they’re doing much of the initial fact-gathering required to effectively champion your product to their networks. When the early majority comes on board, they do so because they trust the legwork that the early adopters did.

Method #4: Don’t Overlook the Competition

It’s possible at times that your early adopters may not even be your current customers, which is why it’s important not to disregard the competition when you’re in identification mode. Acquiring customers from the competition can help you create or reinforce a group of early adopters to help increase your market share and/or build attitudinal equity — that is, the psychological desire that consumers have for your brand that sits apart from purchase behaviors. 

Studying how your brand is positioned within the competitive field helps you find “flight risks,” or the segment of your competitors’ customers who are likely to be lured away by your product. You may discover that some percentage of those flight risks are situated on the early adopter curve 

Because their loyalty is less to any one brand and more to finding the best (and newest) ways to solve their problems, your product may be the exact ticket they’re looking for. And if you can continue to solve their problems, there’s a good chance you can solidify their loyalty to your brand as well.

Method #5: Massage Your Message

Marketing plays a significant role as well in identifying early adopters. Even if you’ve done all the right work — whittled them down through comprehensive market research methodologies, talked to them on social media, stood in front of them in the expo hall — there can still be a disconnect between your value proposition and their actual attention. 

You can remedy this in a couple of ways. One is to get in front of them with targeted ads on the media channels they prefer — whether that’s social media or traditional media like television. The ads should clearly present the problem you already know they have and how your product is the solution. Another is to create landing pages or other web-based content that uses the keywords they’re searching to bring them to you.  

By honing your messaging to the words, ideas, and emotions that strike a chord, and utilizing it in the arenas where they’re already hanging out, you can capture those early adopters who would have otherwise missed you or were failing to make the connection between their problem and your solution.

Identifying Early Adopters to Influence Innovation

How to find your early adopters shouldn’t be your only mission. Once you have them, there’s a wealth of information they can bring along.  

Because product innovation fails a good amount of the time, it behooves you to listen to your early adopters often to understand what they value. This can help you eliminate some of the risk factors and missteps that would prevent them from embracing your product, while helping you stay relevant in the market.  

As you seek to understand consumer problems and develop solutions for them, you have a go-to group that can help supply many of the answers you need to get started. Early adopters are critical to innovation because they’ve already spent time thinking about what does or doesn’t work, and what they’d like to see moving forward.  

Check out this case study to see how a Fortune 500 QSR company was able to identify a unique audience of early adopters to position their new menu innovation around.

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