…And ReadWriteWeb is wrong.
Just a few days before I posted the video of Seth Godin arguing the necessity of pursuing innovators and early adopters, Audrey Watters of the ReadWriteWeb wrote a story on “Why We Shouldn’t Get Too Excited About Early Adopters“. I had marked it for reading and managed to catch up only today.
In that article she argues, drawing evidence from a Clive Thompson article for the Wired magazine, that it is not right for companies to target early adopters. After all they constitute just 13.5% of the market compared to the majority 85%. This based on the argument that early adopters are anyway going to buy the product. So why bother.
All this is clearly prompted by the demise of Google Wave. Which despite efforts of the early adopter community failed to gain wide spread adoption. However, the point she misses here is that Google Wave failed not because it was not targeted towards the late majority. It failed because it was not a product that would ever appeal to the majority in its current form. It was way too complicated. And the use cases were not clear. No argument against the fact that it was indeed revolutionary. But, it suffered from bad timing?
The idea of pitching a product to the innovators and early adopter is to gauge market response to the product and establish some sort of a co-creation platform where the early adopter community helps in the evolution of the early product. If they love it they will spread the word to the late majority and adoption will spread. Whether the late majority adopts is or not will ultimately depend on how well thought out the product is to target that segment of the population.
There is no doubt that taking a product from the early innovators and early adopters to the majority is a major challenge. And to say that just start at the majority is trying to solve this problem too simplistically. There is a significant difference in the wants and needs of these groups of people. This topic is very well covered by Geoffrey A. Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm. The focus should be on choosing the product features wisely, targeting the right group of customers, positioning and marketing strategy among others.
There is a separate problem with bypassing the early adopters and targeting the majority. This group (the majority) of the population is generally risk averse. So no matter how good or bad a product is they are not going to experiment with the unknown. (Unless it is a product from a brand with a reputation for well designed products spanning all segments. Such as Apple.) They depend on others (the innovators and the early adopters) to lead them towards adoption. They are unwilling to listen to what marketers have to say. Status-quo is good enough. As Seth said, if you want to make average products then for sure make them their target. Otherwise it is wiser to ignore them at the beginning.
The failings of a single product (here Google Wave, and Audrey’s opinion is clearly biased by her love of Wave) cannot be a solid reason to start ignoring the early adopters. We can then say good-bye to innovation.