Understanding the product adoption curve and the five types of adopters

Whether you’re launching a new product to an established client base, or you’re bringing something to market for the first time, product adoption is crucial to success. After all, if no one buys your product or service, you’ll lose revenue.

So, how should you drive product adoption? How does product adoption work? Below, we’ll take a look at the product adoption curve to help you get to grips with the stages of adoption. As well as this, we’ll explore the five types of customers and adopters you’ll experience along the way…

What is product adoption and why is it important?

When talking about the product adoption curve, what ‘product adoption’ actually is seems like a good place to start. Product adoption is the point at which users begin to use your products, services or features. For B2C goods or in-store purchases, product adoption would be a successful sale. For services, software or technology, the metrics for adoption can vary. 

For example, SaaS products, online-only banks and eLearning could have several adoption stages. While new users and downloads is a great starting point, real product adoption comes after initial acquisition. Simply downloading the software or signing up for a free trial is rarely enough – true product adoption is frequent usage, signing a contract or paying to use the service for a year.

The benefits of a good product adoption rate are:

  • Loyal customers
  • Higher CLV (Customer Lifetime Values)
  • Predictable revenue and ARR
  • More resilient customers and lower churn rates
  • An increase in organic referrals to friends, family and colleagues
  • More opportunities for upselling and cross-selling.

So, while your product or service itself is important and a large contributing factor to this – especially when it comes to SaaS and online services – it is important to make the entire process run as smoothly as possible for customers. This may include an onboarding process, customer service and knowledge bases on your website.

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What is the product adoption curve?

The product adoption curve is a standardised graph, curve or model that shows which customers will buy your product and when. Each stage does not have a set amount of time between each and, of course, this will vary depending on your product, market share, price point, marketing and sales efforts etc. 

As you can see from this image, the curve forms a bell shape which reaches a peak and then settles back down. Within it, it has five distinct sections:

  • Innovators
  • Early adopters
  • Early majority
  • Late majority
  • Laggards.

What are the five types of product adopters?

Each of the five types of product adopters has a couple of different names that they’re referred to. Below, we will map out both ‘common names’ for each stage, as well as their common descriptions and needs – of course, these are generalisations:

Innovators (Tech enthusiasts)

The first cohort likely to purchase from you is the innovators. Often technology enthusiasts, they are risk-takers by nature and don’t need external approval, reviews or recommendations from others to try a new product. They are excited to try something new and happy to jump on it before a product is at the MVP (minimum viable product) stage or launched. Their attitude to risk also means that they are accepting of the product failing or not being 100% perfect from the get-go, meaning they are happy to wait for future features, iterations and further releases. 

Innovators are usually experts in their field and are happy to pay for products and give feedback to businesses. Due to this expertise, they may find your product easier to use or more intuitive than the mass market – so, while catering to innovator’s needs is important, you need to remember how well they represent your ‘average’ customer. The wealth of innovators goes both ways: while often known as wealthier customers, free user trials, incentives or money off at this point can encourage an uplift in innovators, particularly if the full product is not ready yet.

Early adopters (Visionaries)

The next (slightly larger) segment is the early adopters or visionaries. These are often your influencers, brand advocates and most influential group. While not as willing to take a risk as innovators are, they are the “thought leaders” who will be tech-savvy and likely to promote and discuss your brand for you. 

Early adopters are likely to need more information than innovators before being comfortable in purchasing or committing to a new product, but their position as influencers and leaders will help propel you into the next phase: the early majority.

The early majority (Pragmatists)

The early majority grows to the first peak of your product adoption cycle – this is where the term ‘mass-market’ begins to come into play. At this point, you have innovators and early adopters, their feedback, and a product or service that is (mostly) fit for mass consumption. While there is no hard-and-fast rule on the volume of the early majority or the timescales between each segment, it’s thought that the pragmatists could make up ~34% of customers in the product adoption curve. 

The pragmatists of this group are more risk-averse than the previous two groups and rely on the opinions and reassurance of the innovator and early adopter cohorts to create a considered decision. The early majority are also generally less wealthy, which is one of the reasons why they need external validation before committing. 

The late majority (Conservatives)

The second-largest segment is the late majority. Although, unlike the early majority, it trails off rather than grows. The late majority is again more risk-averse than its predecessors and is unlikely to have the means or social status to try something that isn’t 100% reliable. 

While the late majority aren’t thought leaders, they will still recommend a product based on good experiences to friends, family and colleagues and are likely to leave customer reviews – particularly if they are unhappy with a product or service. However, they are unlikely to impact a wider community with their thoughts and opinions.

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Laggards (Sceptics)

As the late majority trails off, we enter the period of the laggards and sceptics. Sadly, this is a sign that product adoption is slowing down and that your product or service may be entering a decline. 

Sceptics often value tradition and aren’t always up-to-date with the latest in technology. The most reluctant group to try something new without being very familiar with the offering, laggards are likely to need reassurance and to feel confident that they can use the technology easily.

How can you use this information for your business?

Now you have familiarised yourself with the product adoption curve and the needs of the customer at each stage, you’ll want to leverage this information for your business. But how?

Positioning and priorities

In the early stages of product development, it’s important to think about how you’re going to position your product. Who are your target audiences? What problems does it solve? Does it fit seamlessly into your target audiences’ lives? 

Once you have this information, you can focus on the priorities for product development. Will innovators need a product with 7 different features, or can you start with an MVP of 2-3 features and expand out beyond that? Similarly, would the late majority be willing to pay for 2-3 features, or are their expectations higher than this? And how does this product development overlap with your product adoption curve and timescales?

Marketing

Each of these target audiences needs its own marketing and, to an extent, unique messaging. While communications should be consistent, tailoring your marketing messages to each customer segment is crucial to get the right customers on board. For example, you’ll want to win the support of innovators by giving them user trials, networking, reaching out on LinkedIn or perhaps running a Kickstarter campaign. However, this wouldn’t be appropriate for the more risk-averse segments: with these cohorts, you’ll want to show plenty of customer reviews, product reviews in a form of images, videos and user-generated content to demonstrate social proof and to gain their trust.

Improving CX

Making changes to improve the customer experience (CX) for customers is key, and gaining insights from innovators and early adopters is crucial for future success. Make sure you have the systems in place to gain customer insights using analytics and data, as well as a robust customer service team (including chatbots), surveys and interviews to gain a wide range of feedback. Innovators and early adopters are likely to be familiar with your industry, and may have likes and dislikes about your competitors: these customers can provide a wealth of information to help you improve.

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Conclusion

As a business owner, you should familiarise yourself with the five forms of product adopter. That way, you can more accurately forecast your sales pipeline and make tweaks to your product or service as required. Each type of product adopter will need their own marketing strategy, messaging and product considerations, so take this into account to give any new products the best chance of success upon launching. 


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