If the frequency of adoption of a new product is plotted against time, the result is a bell-shaped curve. The curve can conveniently be divided into 5 sections, corresponding to the five classifications of adopters: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.
The late majority is the fourth group of consumers to adopt a product. They constitute approximately 34% of all of those who will ever adopt the product.
The late majority are influenced in their buying behavior to one extent or another by all of the other adopter categories except the laggards, while in their turn they serve as a major influence on the buying behavior of the laggards.
The late majority are just behind the flow of major trends, fashions and tastes of their social system. They tend to be cautious and skeptical, weighing innovations slowly and carefully before adopting them.
Their income and educational level tend to be a little lower than average, while their age is a little higher. Ultimate adoption of a new product, or technical innovation, is often the result of economic necessity and social pressure rather than creativity and curiosity on their part.
While the late majority are not nearly so socially isolated as the laggards, they are among the least socially active and visible members of their social system.
Nevertheless, the late majority do constitute just over 1/3 of all of those who will ever adopt a product, and are as a result, of great interest to the marketer. Furthermore, because of their basic conservatism in adoption and consumption, the group represents a very stable market once a product is successfully introduced.
Bobbie is a 50 year old meat packer. He lives in a well-kept but modest 3-bedroom home. He drives a well-kept 13 year old car. Bobbie works hard, rarely takes a day off from the factory, and likes to go out bowling with the “boys” every Wednesday and Saturday night.
His dream is when he retires, to buy a new “John-boat” and spend his days pursuing his hobby, fishing. Although he can only get away once or twice every other week to do some actual fishing, Bobbie spends most of his evenings thinking about it, reading about it, or else wandering around the sporting goods section of one of the three large discount stores near his home, drooling over “what he would get!”
One thing that Bobbie does spend money on in his trips to these stores is fishing lures – he spends at least $10-$20 every week on an assortment of lures. However, Bobbie cannot bring himself to spend his hard earned money on one type of lure.
Although the financial investment is relatively small, Bobbie just will not buy the newer “gimmicky” lures – he’s just not the convinced that they work.
O.J. Walton is the local representative for one of the largest fishing goods manufacturers in the country; he is also an acquaintance of Bobbie’s. It has come to O.J.’s attention recently, through a passing conversation with the manager of the sporting goods section of one of the local hardware stores, that Bobbie had never purchased any of the line of so called “Hi-tech” lures carried by O.J.’s company.
O.J. and the store manager laughed as they talked about it, but O.J.’s thoughts took a serious turn as he walked out of the store. “Why didn’t Bobbie buy any of the lures?” “Bobbie was a seasoned fisherman; did this mean that there was something wrong with them?”
After some investigation and a chat with a professor from the business school, O.J. became convinced that the problem lay in the fact that Bobbie belonged to the “late majority” adoption group. Realizing that skepticism, and a high degree of perceived risk on Bobbie’s part were his main obstacles, he developed the following plan.
He knew many of Bobbie’s fishing buddies, and he began to move among them, deliberately ridiculing the fact that Bobbie didn’t use any “Hi-tech” or “Modern” type lures. He coined a new nickname for Bobby – “grandpa” – and it wasn’t long before everyone picked up on the name.
Next, he began stopping by Bobbie’s house in the late afternoon before Bobbie arrived home from work, to leave “free samples” of the “Hi-tech” lures with Bobbie’s wife. His explanation was always that he wanted to get Bobbie’s opinion on them.
By the month’s end, Bobbie had caved in to the double attack of friendly ridicule and “free gifts.” He began investigating and trying the lures on his own initiative. Armed with this success, O.J. approached his company headquarters with a strategy to move the late majority to adopt the “High-tech” lures earlier: a series of advertisements which played on mild, friendly ridicule, buttressed by a program of intensive, free sampling. By year’s end, O.J.’s strategy had been such a success, that he was promoted to regional manager.
The identification and targeting of the pertinent group of late majority consumers can give a company a substantial edge over the competition.
- First of all, while the late majority may lack glamour, it is substantial, and can be a major factor in gaining and holding market share.
- Secondly, since the late majority are relatively conservative and are reluctant to try new things, once they have been effectively reached, they do constitute a very stable market which is not subject to the winds of style and fashion to quite the same degree as some of the other groups.
This is of particular importance when products begin to enter the late maturity and decline stages of the product life cycle.
Depending on the type of product, most companies must decide whether they will attempt to attract the 34% late majority. If their product line is comprised of standard consumer items for which there is strong competition, then it is imperative that the company develop a late majority strategy.
If, on the other hand, the company produces high fashion or high tech products, then promotional money might be better spent on the early majority until the product has been firmly established in the market place.
One of the benefits of considering the late majority is in determining how frequently the company must develop new products in order to capture its goal of market share. Understanding the late majority in relation to particular products can force a number of issues pertaining to product development and advertising.
Putting together a marketing program which targets the late majority is no easy matter, and effective programs require a number of steps.
- The first step is to identify exactly who the pertinent late majority group is. It is most important to be able to define the group in concrete, relevant terms, otherwise the recommendation of specific actions becomes meaningless. The description of the group can take on a number of forms: age, geographical location, occupation, and income. Obtaining such information is not so easy as it may seem, but it can be achieved using a number of approaches. By conducting extensive surveys of the current customer base, and comparing it with the population at large, it may be possible to identify “holes” in the market served. By using pre-existing marketing lists which seem to coincide to a large degree with the group of interest, or by simply equating the late majority with that group which is slightly older, slightly less well paid, and slightly less well educated than the population at large, identification is possible. While this identification is both necessary and helpful, it is by no means exact.
- The second step, once the late majority has been identified, is to pin-point and articulate their specific reservations, risk aversiveness, and fears relating to the product of interest. Skepticism is the key to understanding what makes the late majority late in adopting new products. The late majority is reluctant to adopt a new product because they are doubtful that it will be what it claims. This doubt can take a number of different forms; the job of the marketer is to understand and articulate them.
- The third step is to identify the early adopters and early majority groups in the social system of interest. The late majority tend to be influenced in their adoption behavior by these groups. Identifying the groups makes it possible to develop themes and stereotypical characters for advertisements which will have the greatest potential to move the late majority towards the adoption of the product in question in a shorter time.
- The fourth step is to identify effective channels of communication. Unless one is able to communicate the marketing message to the group, efforts will have been in vain. While the late majority are not “main-stream” or “state-of-the-art” in terms of their media preferences, neither are they isolated and singular like the laggards. Media vehicles which have a long established reputation for a solid, middle-of-the- road editorial tone should be evaluated for their possible congruity with the group. Such vehicles might include local newspapers and local TV news programs. In the absence of a clear, efficient media vehicle, it may not be out of the question, given the natural size of this target market, to use a mass media approach with the focus of the message remaining on the late majority.
- The fifth step is to develop a marketing plan which puts all of the previous steps into a rational, realistic strategy. Because of the characteristics of the group, a “push-pull” approach may prove to be useful. That is to say, the group should be accelerated along their normal adoption process using a coordinated “push-pull” effort. This effort would, on the one hand, entice, or “pull” them along using information, financial inducements and general risk reduction methods, and on the other hand, “push” them with mild, good-natured ridicule from stereotypical characters of the early adopter or early majority adoption groups. The “pulls” should be real, tangible, measurable attempts to reduce and dissolve their skepticism. The “push” should be light-hearted criticism of their “fuddy-duddiness” so as to over-come their natural conservatism.
The late majority is a substantial and lucrative group, with much to offer the thoughtful marketer. Careful planning and implementation can result in handsome rewards. However, the implementation of such marketing strategies necessitates an evaluation process.
First of all, the marketing decision makers should constantly evaluate the nature and composition of their customer group. This evaluation, as mentioned earlier, will reveal “holes” in the customer group served vis-a-vis the population of the social group as a whole.
Once such “holes” have been identified as late majority, and when a strategy to reach them has been implemented, they should be monitored for signs that they are coming over to the product, and that the marketing strategy has been successful.
Secondly the group should be monitored for signs that their skepticism has been overcome, in order that the financial inducements, risk reduction mechanisms and ridiculing ads can be rolled-back. Once the late majority climb on board, the strategy should change to retaining them.
The late majority may be the most difficult of the adopter categories to identify. While their behavior is distinctive, their appearance and characteristics are not. They are only slightly older, slightly less educated and make slightly less money than the population average.
They are not reactionary, but cautious and doubting, and just a little late in getting to the station. Conceptually, the idea of the late majority has great appeal, and has value as an orienting framework for planning purposes.
Applications to Small Business
The value of the late majority concept is not so much that it gives the small business person something he can readily see and measure, as it is that it provides a framework for thinking about certain types of marketing problems.
Even though the concept is difficult to operationalize, it can provide insights into such questions as:
- What groups should be targeted as the product enters the late mature stage of the product life cycle?
- How can new products be made more appealing to large segments of the market?
- How can a weak growth stage of a new product be preempted with latter adopters?