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Innovation Adoption Curve: Which Consumer Group Do You Belong To?

When the new iPad came out, where were you? Were you waiting in line outside for two days or were you sleeping comfortably in your bed completely unaware of it? When the new Air Jordans came out, were you packing snacks for your overnight wait or were you eating pizza in front of your television? Knowing the answer to these questions reveals what kind of an adopter you are when it comes to new innovations.

Marketers have broken consumers down into different groups and created this snazzy curve called the Innovation Adoption Curve, which is also referred to as the Multi-Step Flow Theory or Diffusion of Innovations Theory. Imagine whipping out this information at your next company event; you’ll be thought of as a marketing know-it-all!

Adopter Category #1: Innovators — If you rapidly latch on to products when they’re first introduced, then you’re probably an Innovator. Innovators are eager to try new ideas and products, almost as an obsession. They typically have higher incomes and they are worldlier and more active outside their community. Innovators also rely less on group norms and are more self-confident; they get their information more from scientific sources and experts. This is the group that you always see waiting in line for the new Apple products, regardless of the weather or temperature.

Adopter Category #2: Early Adopters — The second group adopts new products early in the product life cycle. Early Adopters rely more on group norms and values, as opposed to Innovators who rely on their own values. They are active inside their community and they want the respect of others. This group is the one to market towards since they are the opinion leaders and encourage their group of family and friends to buy a new product.

Innovation Adoption Curve

Innovation Adoption Curve

Adopter Category #3: Early MajorityEarly Majority consumers collect more information about the product and will weigh the pros and cons before they make a decision. They listen to their opinion leaders and will rely on their groups’ opinions instead of forming them for themselves. They’re an important group nonetheless and should not be ignored! Early Majority group members are positioned between the earlier and later adopters and are deliberate in their data collection process.

Adopter Category #4: Late Majority — Alright, now we’re to the skeptics. Late Majority consumers adopt a new product mainly because their friends have all adopted them and they feel the need to conform. This group is typically older and has below average income and social status. They listen to word-of-mouth communication over mass media, since they trust their friends more.

Adopter Category #5: Laggards — Laggards do not rely on group norms and values, just like Innovators. Their past heavily influences their current decision process. By the time Laggards adopt an innovation it has been possibly outmoded and replaced by something new and flashy. They are extremely suspicious and feel alienated from a rapidly changing society. This group probably bought their first black-and-white TV after color television was already dominantly used. Marketers and advertisers tend to ignore Laggards since they are not motivated by advertising or personal selling and will only purchase a new product when they absolutely have to.

Of course there will be variations in the Innovation Adoption Curve from time to time, but it’s pretty accurate in analyzing consumers according to the ways they react to new innovations. When you know how your consumers learn about and adopt new products, you’re much more likely to successfully market products towards them. Some products aren’t adopted by 100 percent of the population, so these categories specifically refer to all of those who will eventually adopt a product.

Are there certain products that you were an Innovator on and another you adopted because all your friends had?



Amy Swanson

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ content developers and social media coordinators. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on

Comments

  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    Is there a category for “would love to have it immediately but a lack of funds prohibits the wonderfulness?” Because that would be me all over.

    I’ve done multiple midnight showings and went to stores at midnight to buy movies or PS3 games, and as much as I would like to stand in line and drop a couple hundred bucks on the latest iPad, I just don’t have that kind of cash.

    Personal preferences aside, great article, Amy! I shouldn’t be so surprised that marketing gurus have broken up consumers like that, but it’s nice to see some data attached to it.

    • amy

      Thanks Mandy! You’re totally right that there should be a category for people like us, we can’t be alone on our budgeting!!

      • LK

        I agree Mandy, I would definitely love to have some of the new stuff immediately but can’t because of lack of funds.
        Based on WHEN I buy new items I’d have to say I’m between Early Adopter and Early Majority. Once I know I want the item I purchase pretty early in the product life cycle, however, seeing that I’m pretty indecisive I normally like to do some research before making an impulse purchase.

        • Amanda

          That’s a good way to look at it LK. I guess most people would buy more stuff if we were all super rich.

  2. Juliette

    I love gadgets and I probably fall more in the “Innovator” category….except that I’m often halted by a lack of funds for the new toys. Still, I’m all about waiting in line with friends and playing with their new gadets until I can afford my own. :)

    • amy

      I’m all about the playing for free with my friend’s new gadgets, most certainly the way to go ;)

  3. JPorretto

    Thanks Amy for the Air Jordan shout out ;)

    For MOST things I would consider myself a Laggard (sans the Alienation). I always wait for the hype to die down to find out what sucks about it. Because there’s always something…. ALWAYS I say!

    AWESOME post though! Very psychological. Just my style =)

    • Amanda

      I agree Jeff. I am skeptical of the first edition of things because I worry about what the negatives are. I like to wait for the second edition so the kinks will hopefully be all worked out. 3-D tv for instance sounds great–but I’ll be waiting several years, until it’s perfected. =)

      • Amanda

        Oh, and I agree too–sometimes I feel behind, but never alienated–everyone who knows me, knows how cheap I am, lol. And I have no problem with that.

        But like I always say, if money were just unlimited somehow, I’d be more of a shopper for sure.

    • amy

      I thought you’d appreciate that Jeff ;)

      The category I fall into greatly depends on the product. I’ve been searching everywhere for the new Dunkin’ Donuts K-cups and almost bid on a box on eBay. But, I found out today that the location by my house got a shipment in so I’ll be making a stop on my way home tonight :D Other products though I’ll adopt when I absolutely have to LOL

  4. Amanda

    I love this blog Amy! I think subjects like this are super interesting!

    I am somewhere in the middle on this graph. There is very rarely a new item that I will run out and buy the day it hits shelves—in fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever done this. I’d say I’m somewhere between the Early Majority and a Laggard. It depends on what the item is, how much we value it, and how much it costs (of course—you all know I’m cheap by now, lol). For computers-we were early majority I’d say. Having a nice, fast computer at home is important to us so we bought a nice one pretty early on, and have since replaced it with a newer, more up to date model. For tvs-we were also early majority—I love having a big, HD tv at home, so we bought one pretty quickly. We watch quite a bit of tv, so this is important to us. For cell phones—we’re laggards for sure! I got a cell phone pretty early on, at age 15 or so, but it’s never been a flashy one at all. Just a basic one that works well is fine by me. To us, it’s important to have a cell phone—but one that has the internet, I have no interest in because of the cost. Once they’re available for the $30 per month that I pay now, I’ll be all over that.

    • amy

      I’m right there with you Amanda! A lot of where I fall into depends on what the product is, how much I need it and whether or not I can actually afford it. Sadly, the latter usually determines if I’ll purchase or not. Thanks for the comment :)

  5. Rachel

    I’d probably put myself in the Early Majority category for most things–I tend to do research, read reviews, and listen to family/friends/other word of mouth sources before buying something, especially big-ticket items. And like others, cost hinders me as well–it took me a while before getting an iPod nano, for instance, and I haven’t upgraded to a regular iPod or iTouch yet because of the price tag.

    I love learning about these kinds of marketing-mixed-with-psychology topics. Thanks for keeping us informed, Amy!

    • amy

      The more expensive the product the more I’m willing to do research on it as well Rachel. I can’t see myself ever plopping down a large sum of money on a whim for something.

      I loved my consumer behavior class in college because this is all that it was, people’s shopping behaviors based on psychology and sociology. And of course that textbook I never kept LOL

  6. Jana Quinn

    I’m somewhere in the middle, too, I think. I do love camping out for midnight shows; I enjoy the actual experience of being in line and excitedly talking about whatever film with other passionate fans as well as the movie itself (usually).

    As far as tech goes, I have yet to purchase or really even want an iPad. I was a smartphone snob until a few months ago, when I bought a just-released HTC Inspire. However, I won’t hop on the next new thing just for the sake of it; this phone has everything I could need (and frankly, more) until my contract is up in two years. I generally front load my tech purchases, so I don’t feel the need to get frequent updates (less money) rather than being a laggard, waiting until the tech is less expensive and competing products offer new features.

    If I were a laggard, I would feel like I was paying for something that wasn’t meeting my needs (or fulfilling the potential of the tech/product) and want to upgrade sooner. By *occasionally* making “innovative” purchases, my products spend about half their life being toward the cutting edge and as they get outdated, I’ve saved money on 3-4 upgrades and can hop in on another innovation cycle.

    Interesting set of categories, Amy. Are there any steadfast (or even loose) rules for marketing to the different types of consumer bases? I assume most want to grab the Innovators and Early Adopters, but what about the others? The rest make up 85% of the consumer base (provided consumers actually DO fall on a true Bell curve).

    Just out of curiosity, do marketers see EVERY consumer category other than Innovators as sheep? The way you’ve summed up the groups makes it sound like anyone who doesn’t jump on the latest and greatest is a mindless follower, an old person, paranoid, and/or poor. Is that how marketers generally categorize anyone who isn’t waiting in line for three days to get something?

    I’d also like to argue that the “Innovators” can also be – and in my experience frequently ARE – followers who value group opinions above their own. Apple fanboys and fangirls line up around the block for anything Apple releases. How many do you think do genuine research on the product and decide it’s the best? Maybe the Apple example threw me for a loop. I see “Innovators” being those who AREN’T waiting in line for Apple products but instead are getting more obscure products or participating in beta testing, because they want something that’s NOT just a branded obsession.

    I LOVE your marketing blogs, Amy. Keep dazzling!!

    • Amanda

      I love some of the points you made Jana! =) I see what you’re saying here: “By *occasionally* making “innovative” purchases, my products spend about half their life being toward the cutting edge and as they get outdated”. This is a great way to look at it! And it is a clever way to save some money.

      I like your points about Apple and “Innovators” too. That’s part of why I don’t buy the latest and greatest things–I like to do my own research and see if the technology is worth spending my hard earned money on. Some items are neat, but I can’t see myself using, so instead of using others opinions and following the “in crowd”, I like to make sure the new item is something I’d honestly use and enjoy–otherwise I see it as a waste of money.

    • amy

      It basically comes down to the actual product and brand more so than following the same rules every single time. There are five product characteristics that depending on the product, can be used to predict the rate of acceptance and diffusion:

      1) Complexity: how difficult it is to understand and use a new product (higher level of complexity = slower rate of adoption)
      2) Compatibility: Is the new product consistent with previous values and product knowledge (incompatible products = slower rate of adoption)
      3) Relative Advantage: how the product is perceived compared to existing substitutes on the market (higher advantage = quicker adoption)
      4) Observability: how well the product is observed by others and communicated to the target market (higher level of observability = quicker adoption)
      5) Trialability: can the product be used on a trial basis? Giving away free samples of a new toothpaste will lead to a quicker adoption compared to testing out an iPod at an Apple store.

      I sincerely hope that marketers aren’t seeing consumers as mindless zombies going from trend to trend based on WOM advertising. However, I’m sure some company’s feel that that it’s easier to market towards the innovators and saving the money on marketing towards other groups of consumers. Not the best strategy by a long shot, but then again they probably aren’t on the Fortune 500 list anyways.

      I wholeheartedly agree with the Apple fanboys and fangirls phenomenon of buying because of the brand instead of the actual product. However, as a marketer you may hope that consumers aren’t doing any research on your product and will just buy it for the sake of owning it (certainly, not the most ethical way to go about it). Innovators are obsessed with new products and want to try out the ‘latest’ and ‘greatest’.

      You ask great questions Jana! I’m happy to answer them where- or whenever :)

      P.s thanks for a new blog post idea!!

  7. Lauren

    My mom is def. a laggard… I had dial up internet until 2004…

    • amy

      I still remember when my grandmother’s television broke and we had to search everywhere that had a TV built into a wooden console (like the 1950’s style ones). Thankfully, she lives in a smaller town in Iowa so she wasn’t alone with this unusual request and was able to find one.

  8. Joseph Giorgi

    As a consumer, I normally alternate between the second, third, and fourth “Adopter Categories” you’ve listed here, depending on the amount of disposal income I have. When a flashy new toy comes along that I’m particularly interested in, I do all that I can to be one of those Early Adopters — or at least be part of the Early Majority. If money were no object, I’d always be an Early Adopter; probably even an Innovator.

    Sadly, I often end up in the Late Majority category — due to insufficient funds and whatnot.

    Excellent post, Amy! New terminology is always fun, and I’ve learned some very cool terms here! :)

    • amy

      Thanks Joe, I’m always a sucker for some new terminology too LOL

  9. Jill Tooley

    My category vastly depends on the product we’re talking about. I don’t rush out to buy every new thing that comes out, but I’d gladly wait in line for a product that revs my engine somehow (like the newest Harry Potter book, once upon a time…). All in all, I’d have to relate to the Early Majority. Pros and cons are extremely important to me (I have a billion lists scattered about at any given moment) before I make a big purchase, and I tend to listen to my friends over anonymous reviews.

    Some products, though, I’ll probably shake my fist at until they’re forced upon me by society (like the e-reader or the tablet computer). Can I be an Early Majority/Laggard hybrid? ;)

    Thanks for the brilliant info as always, Amy!

  10. ed

    I am a web developer but consider myself a laggard, was one of the first to signup to couchsurfing and a long established airbnb host so I consider myself to be someone who choses technology judiciously. I bought a macbook pro as an early to late majority but my decision was based 70/30 on the usability/trend. I earn above average income but I only a very old nokia mobile – not a smartphone. I dont understand how people justify spending >3% of their yearly income on a fairly unnecessary device. I feel to a degree we are trapped by our jobs and our possessions and therefore its not a lack of awareness or money or social status that makes me a laggard, just a personal philosophy. The one great thing is that I am actually pretty much ignored by marketers. What price would an early adopter pay for that?

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