This website has discussed consumer innovators numerous times, due to their importance in generating product adoption and kick-starting the introduction phase of the product life cycle. While innovators are the initial type of consumer, there are other consumer mindsets that are typically discussed in marketing textbooks.
The standard consumer adoption categories include:
- Early adopters
- Early majority
- Late majority
Typically these are presented using a standard bell curve concept. Innovators, early adopters and the early majority represent the first 50% of consumers to adopt a new product, whereas the late majority laggards represent the final 50%. Obviously, keep in mind that not all consumers will adopt the product. For example, not everybody has a smart phone, although they are widely utilized in many markets and countries.
This classification of consumers relates to their willingness to take risks and to switch purchase behaviors relative to particular product categories. For example, a consumer may be an innovator or early adopter of technology products, but perhaps be in the late majority for household furniture. Therefore, these categories are relevant to particular products, not necessarily the consumer themselves – but obviously some people are more risk takers whereas others are more conservative, so there would be some correlation of behaviors across related product categories.
Keep in mind that these adopter categories primarily relate to a mindset, as well as the consumer’s lifestyle and product interest level. Consumers who are classified as innovators are less reliant upon the word of mouth persuasion of others. They are generally more adventurous and more willing to take risks. Relative to the particular the product category, they would tend to have a higher level of knowledge, confidence and interest in the product.
Early adopters also have some of the similar characteristics to innovators. However, they are more reliant upon word-of-mouth and the reassurance of other people’s purchase – which helps reduce their purchase risk. This means that they would be somewhat influenced by the innovator (who has already made a purchase). They will also conduct their own research in addition to word-of-mouth discussion, and also like innovator, they will have a high level of interest in the product category.
Opinion leaders – those consumers viewed as experts by other consumers – are typically found among early adopters, as they tend to have better social networks and connections than innovators (as innovators tend to make their purchase decisions irrespective of others).
Therefore, early adopters, as opinion leaders, are a foundation to gaining widespread adoption of the new product. Usually the shift of the product life cycle from the introduction to the growth phase is driven by the transition from purchases by innovators to purchases by the early adopters.
Innovators and early adopters account for 16% of all consumers. As early adopters make their initial and then their repeat purchases, there is a significant impact on broad word-of-mouth (including face-to-face and digital/Internet), which provides a broader reach to the balance of the population. At this point, there is a compounding effect of word-of-mouth, and the growth phase of the PLC ramps up essentially, creating that roller coaster look of the PLC chart.
Early adopters then substantially influence the early majority – which essentially moves the new product to the mainstream consumer. The early majority relies heavily upon positive word-of-mouth, as they tend to be more cautious purchasers and will look to rely upon social influence to help “justify” their decision – both for the product itself and for the particular brand selected.
Therefore, at this stage of the market’s development, we have a shift towards market share stabilization as the word-of-mouth impact is now suggesting/recommending certain brand preferences for this particular new product category.
The late majority are those consumers that are generally reluctant to change their purchase behaviors, but tend to do so if they feel that they are out of step with what everybody else is doing (that is, outside social norms). It is not until they see the product widespread – in retailers and in people’s homes/possession – that they eventually decide to start buying the product.
Typically, the late majority will support the purchases in the decline phase of an alternative/substitute product life cycle, while providing the final growth in the late stage of the growth phase of the PLC. Because of this behavior, some of these consumers are “forced" to adopt the new product, as the existing product solutions are being withdrawn from the market (as it is in the decline stage of the PLC).
Final mindset is laggards – which are consumers that may not even adopt the product at all. They are very conservative in their actions (or are quite elderly people) who prefer not to change purchase behavior. For example, some of these consumers may still have a VCR/video player that they have maintained for many years.
They may be troubled by adopting new technology and learning new things or simply have a preference for stability. Either way, laggards are generally not an overly attractive target and usually not worth the effort to try and persuade their thinking. From a marketing perspective, it is just worth considering that there is a proportion of consumers that are prone to avoid new product and any form of innovation.