If the frequency of adoption of a new product is plotted against time, the result is a bell-shaped curve. This curve can be conveniently divided into 5 sections, corresponding to the five classifications of adopters:
The early majority is the third group of consumers to adopt a product after the innovators. They constitute approximately 34% of all of those who will ever adopt the product. The early majority is influenced in their buying behavior by the early adopters while they, in turn, exert considerable influence over the late majority and laggard adopter categories.
The early majority tends to accept a new product just before the “average” adopter. He or she is socially active, but seldom a leader, and he likes to deliberate for some time before making a decision. While this group is willing to take some risks in trying new things, it prefers risks to be tempered by the experiences of the early adopters.
The early majority provide the link between the more adventurous innovators and early adopters, and the more cautious late majority and laggards because they hold an important place in the new product introduction strategy.
Because of the sheer size of the group (34% of all those who will adopt the product) they, along with the late majority (also 34%) are the ultimate target of new product strategies. The early adopter category with only 13.5% of the total is really only a stepping stone to these greener pastures.
Rita is in the early majority when it comes to cosmetics. She has a wide circle of friends, and is generally liked, but she is definitely not the trend setter for her circle. With regard to her make-up, she is trendy, but not a trend setter.
As a matter of fact, she gets most of her ideas in how to get “dolled-up” from Alice, an early adopter. Rita admires Alice’s pluck, but she had to sit back and think things through very seriously before she followed Alice’s example and dyed her hair green.
The local Young-face cosmetics rep decided that she could make more in commissions if she could get people like Rita to come to her presentations. However, when she found that Rita was somewhat reluctant to show up, the Young-face rep decided to develop a strategy to bring her in.
Her plan was threefold: first of all, she was going to encourage a number of early adopters, like Alice to come to her presentations, by offering a much more contemporary line of products. Secondly, she was going to offer gifts to the early adopters for every five women they brought with them.
Finally, when she got the women into the presentation, she was going to tone the great-grand style preferred by many of the early adopters down somewhat, so as to appeal more to the cautious risk takers like Rita. Her plan took a little longer to work than she expected; however, she did eventually break into the early majority market in her area.
Being able to identify the pertinent group of early majority can give a company a substantial edge in developing its new market and products. While the key to entering a market is the early adopter, the key to gaining market share begins with the early majority.
The early majority is an important group of adopters for three reasons: first of all, they are a large group, comprising 34% of all those who will ever adopt the product. Secondly, they provide the essential link between the risk-taking early adopters, and the risk-averse later adopters.
Finally, the early majority is important because it represents the beginning of the more stable part of the market. The early adopters and innovators may be flashy, but they tend to be fickle. The early and late majorities and the laggards provide a stable core for future planning.
Putting together a program which target markets the early majority in a particular market is not an easy matter. Effective programs require a number of steps. The first step is to identify exactly who the early majority are.
It is important to be able to specify in concrete terms what the group is. This description may take on a number of forms: geographical, race, religion, income, age and occupation. Getting the information to develop such a description is also difficult, but it can be achieved in two different ways: either by conducting extensive analytical surveys of the market, or by using pre-existing mailing lists.
Regardless of the method used, perfection is not possible. Rather, what most often emerges is a reasonably close approximation of the early majority group.
The second step is to identify the early adopter group in the market being considered. This can also be achieved by either an analytical survey, or by using preexisting targetable audience. The early adopter is perhaps a little easier to identify because of the more distinct characteristics of the group.
The third step is to identify the nature of the relationship between the early majority and early adopter categories in the market under consideration. Understanding this relationship is important because early adopters have a strong influence on the adoption patterns of the early majority.
In particular, three characteristics of the relationship should be investigated: the nature of the social system, the nature of the communication process within the social system, and the expected rate of adoption. First of all, the social system constituting the market should be identified and described.
This system may take on the characteristics of individuals, informal groups, organizations, or governmental units. The question to ask is, what are the fundamental units of the market under consideration, and how do they relate to each other? Second, the nature of the communication process within the social system/market should be evaluated.
The fundamental phenomenon to investigate is how the units of the social system communicate with and influence one another.
Finally, the rate at which new ideas, or new products are adopted in the social group/market should be carefully evaluated. When the time of individuals adopting a new product is plotted cumulatively over time, the result is an S-shaped curve.
While most new products have this S-shaped curve, there is some variation in the slope of the “S”. The slope of this cumulative adoption curve will have implications for the timing and implementations of the marketing strategy.
The fourth step is to develop a marketing plan which exploits the relationships between the early adopter and the early majority. It must be remembered that interest in early adopters comes from their influence over the early majority; the focus of strategic planning is on the early majority.
An effective marketing strategy would thus be two-pronged. The first prong would be to direct marketing efforts towards the early adopters, so that the early majority can eventually be affected through them. Thus, communications channels appropriate for targeting the early adopter must be identified.
The second prong of the marketing strategy would be to facilitate adoption of the product by the early majority directly. Here appropriate channels of communications must also be identified. The tone of the messages should be in keeping with the cautious risk taking behavior of the group.
Furthermore, because of the tendency of the early majority to deliberate before adopting new products and ideas, advertising communications should provide information suited to serious deliberation.
Moreover, the use of stereotypical early adopters in the advertising communications may also facilitate product adoption.
All market planning should be prefaced with, and influenced by, the results of the analysis suggested above in step three.
The whole point of target marketing the early majority is that they are the key to market share. Furthermore, they are essential to reaching the other 50% of the market who will adopt the product at a later date. As a result of this, a two stage evaluation process is appropriate.
- The first stage requires that the process of adoption of the new product by the early majority be monitored. This can be determined by a careful analysis of sales trends, as well as by in-store interviews or online checkout surveys.
- The second stage of the evaluation process requires that the adoption of the product by the rest of the social group, but particularly the late majority, be monitored also. This stage of the evaluation can also be achieved using sales analysis in store interviews, as well as geographic and demographic analysis of the market.
While there is a great intuitive appeal in analyzing and target marketing the early majority, few firms actually seem to be using it as an approach to the introduction of new products. The main reason for this is the great difficulty of actually identifying the early majority, in an operational way.
Furthermore, the actual diffusion process of a new product within a given population is not nearly so clean as theory would suggest. Nevertheless, the concept of identifying the early majority does provide marketing strategies with an orienting framework for planning purposes.
Applications to Small Business
The value of the early majority to the small business is that it provides a framework within which to develop marketing strategies. Even though the concept often proves difficult to implement, it can provide insights into such questions as:
- What markets can be approached after an initial acceptance of the product by the early adopter?
- How can that market be increased?
- What messages are appropriate for that market?
The insight provided by the concept is all the more valuable to the small business because it can be dealt with in a semi-intuitive way, with perhaps only a modest outlay of capital.