The technology adoption lifecycle is an key concept to understand when building and marketing your web-based products or services. This is the cycle in which your market will begin using your new technology. Whether you are building an eCommerce store, a web application, a communication portal for your customers, or some other grand vision, you have to remember that building the product is only a fraction of the battle. The other fraction is getting people to use the product.
In this article I discuss the different stages of technology adoption. Understanding the stage in which your product currently resides is incredibly important for making marketing and communication decisions.
This concept is not one that I developed. I first read about the technology adoption lifecycle in Crossing the Chasm – a great book about growing technology businesses. In the book, Geoffrey Moore explains that the adoption cycle is a bell curve depicting the growth of adoption in your market. It shows the increase of usage, the stages of progressive acceptance amongst the market, and also the point at which the product becomes a widely adopted staple in the markets culture.
For the purpose of this article, let’s consider the technology adoption stages of smart phones. Think back to 2000 and 2001 when the first Palm Pilot hit the market. Remember the folks that were using those devices? Now, consider where we are in the smart phone adoption cycle now. Today seeing someone use a flip phone is a rarity. This is because we’ve spent the last 16 years progressing through the stages of smart phone adoption.
The group of users that adopted the very first handheld devices (Palm Pilots) were the innovators. These folks are usually technology enthusiasts that become excited about new technology and are willing to find ways to fit the technology into their live’s immediately. Usually these people are involved in the industry where technology surfaces fastest. The people that are working in high tech environments are usually the ones that are exposed to new technology first. Through their own research and discovery they find and begin experimenting with the new technology. The innovators are consumers, but their exposure puts them at the frontline of technology advancement. They want to test out any new “gadget” and see how it fits in their life immediately. These people are also the ones that are willing to overlook bugs and even offer guidance and advice to the producer to help them grow the product into a better offering.
Next is the early adopters. These are the consumers that quickly adopt new technology faster than the majority of other consumers but they may not be on the front lines of innovation. These consumers are the people that wait in line at 6am in front of the Apple store so they can be the first to get a new version of the iPhone. They are much like the innovators, but their exposure to the new technology comes through their own research and dedication to technology. They may only learn of the new technology once it’s fully available to the masses. They may or may not work in the technology industry so they have to learn about these new things on their own. When they hear about a new gadget they are willing to buy it and test it out as soon as possible. Like the innovators they are willing to overlook a few bugs and issues in exchange for having something new and exciting.
The early majority represents a segment that is a bit more practical. They’re excited about new technology and they are genuinely interested in trying new things but they take longer before getting involved. Usually they are waiting until the technology has proven itself before they dive in. They want other people to help the technology “clear out the bugs” and they want to be sure they aren’t wasting money on things that prove to be useless. Typically the Early Majority views all new technology as a fad or trend until it proves itself. They recognize that not everything will stick. They don’t want to waste their money if they don’t have too. These are the folks that waited till the iPhone was at version 3 or 4 before they bought one. This group represents the largest segment of the audience, and when a technology has reached this stage of the lifecycle it’s a sign that the technology will likely become an important technology in the future.
The Late Majority users are folks that take on technology only when they must. By the time they begin using the technology it’s so ingrained into our culture that living without the technology would seem unrealistic or unlikely. This group adopts the technology because it’s the new norm. Using our smart phone example, these are the adopters that want to get a new cell phone but find that only smart phones are available or they feel pressure from others (family members or business colleagues) to begin using smart phones for day-to-day communication. The size of this segment is comparable to the Early Majority or slightly smaller. Once a technology has moved from the Early Majority into the Late Majority stage it’s now a concrete piece of our culture and is on it’s way to becoming a standard.
The Laggards are the final group of technology adopters. These are people that never purposefully adopt new technology. Using our example, Laggards only adopt smart phones because that’s all that is available to them. I don’t think the smart phone cycle has reached this stage yet. I have seen people still using flip phones and possibly not even owning a cell phone at all (yikes!). Generally, when a technology has reached this stage it completely dominates the market. It’s the only option. A good example is cable television. You can no longer receive TV signals through an antenna, instead you must have cable in order to watch TV. Another example is VHS tapes. Going to a store to rent or buy VHS tapes is no longer an option. You either must get DVDs or use on-demand services. In this case, the Laggards are forced to upgrade to at least a DVD player or a service like Netflix because that’s the only way they can watch new movies at home. These folks make up a small percentage of consumers and are typically recognized as the older generation. Once a technology has reached this stage, it has completed the cycle and is the new “normal”. Any other option is either outdated and has been replaced or it’s brand new in comparison.
By understanding these stages of the technology adoption lifecycle you’ll better understand your audience and the segment in which that audience currently exists. Of course this can be applied to technology like smart phones or electric cars, but the general principles can even become part of your web project or web-based business. If you are building a new eCommerce site you should consider how your audience will respond to buying your particular products online and how easily they’ll adapt. For instance, selling food products online is still a new and upcoming technological and cultural shift. I’d say we are still in the Early Adopter stage of that new adoption lifecycle.
I hope you found this useful, and as an exercise I’d suggest pondering this anytime you are confronted with a new technology. Think about the stage is which the consumer is in and how the marketing teams representing the technology are communicating to that audience. Also, it’s important to understand which segment you typically fall into. This will better help you understand how you relate to your audience and market. For instance, if you are typically a Early Adopter you may find that it’s easy to transition into a new technology. If that is the case, it may be hard for you to understand the Late Majority segment. By understanding your own perspective you can better prepare how to relate to your market and communicate to them.