How Early (of an adopter) Are You?

Now Here's a Really Early Adopter

If the title of this post made you wonder if it was about when you should consider adopting a child or rescuing a puppy, you probably would not be considered an “Early Adopter” by the definition laid out in this post. I was recently interviewed by Laura Rich, a freelance writer hired to write a white paper for AdAge called Shiny New Things, regarding how marketers should appeal to early adopters of technology – gadgets, hardware, and software. I was more than happy to share my thoughts, some of which are cited in the white paper.

When I mentioned my interview with Laura with a few of my non tech-savvy friends, I was struck by the fact that they had not even heard of the term “early adopter”. Granted, they mostly worked in theater and non-marketing-related jobs. I assured them that if they had never heard of the term “early adopter” that they most definitely weren’t one! Among most of my marketing and technology colleagues and friends, it’s a commonly used term to describe us – people who revel in being one of the first if not the first person to try whatever is new, and report on it to the people we influence.

Here’s the Wikipedia Definition of Early Adopter:

An early adopter or lighthouse customer is an early customer of a given company, product, or technology; in politics, fashion, art, and other fields, this person would be referred to as a trendsetter. The term originates from Everett M. RogersDiffusion of Innovations (1962)[1].

I wanted to get a better idea of what my marketing and tech-savvy friends thought so I spoke to a few of them and here’s what they had to say:

Michael, an Atlanta-based software engineer:

Sometimes I am an early adopter, sometimes I am not. I usually have an extremely good idea of [when] technology is available and what companies are capable of making. So generally, in almost every area, I have an idea of what I want in a product and will typically buy technology very early only if that product meets what I need at the price I think it’s worthy.

For products like the iPhone and the Kindle I waited for the second revision of each product so it would have all of the features I deemed necessary to buy the product. In the case of the first iPhone, I could not justify buying a non-subsidized phone. I also tend to guess what will be contained in the next release and use that as a basis for a decision – most of the time I would prefer to buy every other revision of a product if its something where the hardware will be upgraded significantly each revision.

In general, I’m not a “buy new technology no matter what the cost” type of guy. A good example is OLED televisions. I have known about this technology for a very long time and will be interested to see TVs and other devices utilizing this technology. However, I’m not going to go buy a small TV or anything utilizing it at the moment because its still way too expensive.

In terms of marketing – and I would probably say this goes for all my tech friends – we care about what it can do and what it can’t do. I tend to be influenced by marketing campaigns that show me what the product can do. The iPhone is a great example. I know the tech specs for the phone, but the commercials showing the different apps working appeal to me because it shows me what can be done with the device. In general, most engineers I know are not heavily influenced by marketing mainly because we develop products for a living and see marketing BS all the time.

But after speaking to Michael, I asked myself, How Early do I Adopt New Technology? Generally speaking, if it’s free software, I’ll know about it, try it, evaluate it, and report on its strengths and weaknesses during its beta release. For gadgets that I’d have to pay for, I certainly don’t buy everything, although I’m a huge Apple fan boy and will generally purchase 80% of their new products. But I probably wait until the second release. I feel that this is smarter. Why shouldn’t I wait just a bit until they work out all the bugs and get a better version? Many people who bought the first iPhone waited in a long line, paid more, and didn’t have nearly as good of an iPhone as the 3G I bought slightly less than a year later (although I might have bought it earlier if it weren’t for my Verizon contract and I did by the iPod Touch). Like Michael, I feel that marketing that demonstrates a product working is effective.

Chris Fohlin, a New York-based Web Developer:

With the iPad I think I’ll jump right in because it’s a product that has developed out of a predecessor – the iPhone. If I can try out a gadget right away without a large financial responsibility then I’m all about it. I can’t afford to do that phones because they cost so much without a contract, etc. Although I think if the iPad were more in the predicted price range of $1,000 you wouldn’t hear me talking about owning it come April because it’d be out of my reach for what will be more of a “toy” for me than a necessity.

The other thing about being an early adopter, especially with web apps and other internet/techstuff that doesn’t require $$ like gadgets do, is the opportunity to get in at the ground level in case something takes off. I love to be one of the first of my friends to try something out and then spread the word, provide feedback on the product, and compare and contrast it against competing products. I did a similar thing with FourSquare and Gowalla. I started using FourSquare first and then toyed with Gowalla just to see how it compared, what it was missing or what bonuses it had in case it duked it out and KO’d FourSquare in the battle for location-based supremacy.

I think marketers do their best when they’re able to build up the hype surrounding their product because if I’m using something that’s hyped up then people are asking me for my opinion on it and I get to provide feedback and really dissect the product, something I enjoy doing.

Hype is ever more important for companies that don’t have a long, proven track record like that of Apple. In a case with a newer company/product/concept/service, the offering better be well explained, well documented, and I should be able to see a lot imagery before its release. I get excited by seeing a product and reading about its specs as opposed to just hearing a lot of people from the company talk it up without backing up the talk to some degree.

In my opinion, the hype that Chris is referring to, is mostly not hype created by a typical advertising campaign. Not everyone has the $$$ and golden reputation that Apple does. Instead, it’s buzz created by social media that I believe makes a difference. I think that wise early adopters stay on top of the technology, follow all of the reports on blogs like Gizmodo, NYTimes Bits Blog, Tech Crunch, ReadWriteWeb, and Mashable. Savvy marketers will develop online campaigns to reach this blogs in a way the provides value to the consumer (of software, gadgets, and content).

Are You an Early Adopter of Technology? The white paper referred to above cites a survey of 700 early adopters done by software application developer, Serena, that splits them into 5 groups of what they’ve called “Mashers”.  According to Serena, as a result of the survey findings, a Masher is a person who is able to use technology to be more productive in their personal life and at work. Note that the study also shows the typical demographic data (age and gender) associated with each of these groups. But why don’t you see which group you most identify with without that info, and then check it later.

The Alphas

  • The tech elite
  • Drenched in technology
  • Technology has significant positive impact on their lives and ability to communicate.
  • At work they are delegators.
  • 94 percent believe technology has a positive effect on the world.

The Accidentals

  • Not as comfortable with technology as Alphas but still have a deep understanding of how technology can improve their lives.
  • Less direct approach at work.
  • Consider technology a tool to solve problems, but not the key to everything.
  • Similar to Balanced (below), but more focused on work and enthusiastic toward technology.

The Practicals

  • Using all the technology that most early adopters are excited about, they are less enthusiastic about the devices.
  • Typically report to the Alphas and Accidentals at work, but are focused on implementation
  • The most hesitant to agree that technology has a positive impact on the world (only 50 percent) or their lives (20 percent).

The Balanced

  • Although similar to Accidentals, they do not place technology or work at the center of their lives.
  • Approach their job as a means to fund other things they enjoy, the Balanced Mashers lead more relaxed lives than other types.
  • Hesitant to adopt emerging technology until they see how it relates to their personal lives
  • Least likely to be workaholics (9 percent).

The Lites

  • The most resistant to adopting new technologies before they are mainstream
  • less likely to take risks, actively solve problems or create efficiency.
  • At work, they may adopt a new process once it is proven effective in another department
  • The most risk averse segment in relationship to technology (only 1 percent are the first to try new technology), their work life (only 7 percent take frequent workplace risks) and at home (only 4 percent take frequent risks in their personal lives).

Based on the above description, which one do you think you are (if any). Take my poll:

Here is the press release that also shows the demographic data. You can also take the formal free quiz at to see where you really fall.

image attribution: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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