Monday, September 10, 2007
Are you an early adopter?
I knew a lot of angry people when Apple decided to drop the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200 last Wednesday. Wouldn't you have been angry if you had paid $600 or a full 1/3 more than everybody else just for the privilege of owning an iPhone 3 months earlier?

This has got some people talking about a condition called the early adopter syndrome. "It's a lack of impulse control in the presence of new technologies," according to Tom Creeds of St. John's University.

So, who is an early adopter? I knew I had heard the term before. Were early adopters really just suckers who bought the latest gadgets at premium prices?

The term stems back to diffusion theory. It's a domino effect theory based on psychology and it beats in the heart of today’s marketing campaigns. Everett Rogers's "Diffusion of Innovations," published in 1995, is the textbook for diffusion theory. The idea is that early adopters set trends. Imagine a hill or a bell curve graph. Early adopters would be on the left, the big bulge in the middle is the majority in the middle or the mainstream and the laggards are all the way on the right.

Early adopters are the target audience for all marketers. They don't shy away from newness and uncertainty and they are happy to incorporate cutting edge innovations. They are the people who will bring a cool new product to the mainstream. They make up just 13.5% of the population. Here's the breakdown:

(1) Innovators - 2.5%
(2) Early adopters - 13.5%
(3) Early majority - 34%
(4) Late majority - 34%
(5) Laggards - 16%

Basically, early adopters shape opinions and influence their friends. We all know somebody who is always on the early edge of trends. The person who knows about a great band months before anybody else. The person who waited on line for the Nintendo Wii long before everyone else had one. Dr. Donald Berwick calls them "self-conscious experimenters," in a 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association article.

Many tech writers refer to what they call early adopter syndrome, or confess to being a technoholic, but all joking aside, you can get burned. Such as in the case with the iPhones. By the way, Apple is offering credits to appease iPhone's early adopters.

Buying new technology often means it's unproven and needs testing, but early adopters often forego the risk for the possible benefits.

Are you an early adopter? Do you know any early adopters? Do you think this theory of trend-setting makes sense?
It took me 5 years to finally buy an iPod. The benefit was cheaper price for a better model.

I think early adopters should pay the premium price for whatever technology comes out. That's the price you pay for the privelege of being "the first".
Hi Chris,

I do health services implementation research. Diffusion theory is used in this field, as well, to target and evaluate how to get medical facilities and providers to adopt new medical treatments. The theory holds true in my field, so I'd assume it holds true for "fun gadgetry" marketing. There's a mistaken belief among some that either you're an early-adopter or not; you're a laggard or if your place on this curve is a static personality trait. However, something I consider interesting and challenging is how any one person's place in the bell-curve of diffusion changes over the course of their life or depending on the type of service being provided. The young early-adopters become older laggards with time. The laggards in one area are the early majority in another. It's very hard to keep up!
I agree with the first comment. Everybody knows the price goes down if you wait, and I don't feel bad for anyone who paid $600 for an iPhone.
Agreed...I have no regrets of buying the iPhone on the first day! Wait for a couple of years, you'll probably get it free even!
The issue really isn't being an early adopter, its more along the lines of being a compulsive buyer. I would consider myself an early adopter, yet I don't have an iPhone. Why? Because I did my research. The iPhone did NOTHING new that my current cell phone doesn't do. Rather, I saw it for what it was; a bunch of ads reselling you an existing product for more money while trying to make you feel you are being avant guarde, an outside the box thinker, and one of a kind. However, I just read that the millionth iPhone just sold...Now if you own an iPhone, you are one of a million. Its the same reason why the iPod is such a good seller; catchy ads selling to an uninformed, compulsive market.
I find the contention that early adopters "lack impulse control" ridiculous, to tell you the truth. People who lack impulse control are known as impulse buyers, they are the kind of folks who the Walmart floorplan is designed for. But early adopters (using myself as an example) will buy new technologies as they become available, to see what they do, and how they work, and how they are useful. We cannot rely on reviewers, because they don't have to pay for what they review, and deadline pressure makes it impossible for them to integrate a new product into their daily lives before they write about it. It helps that I do R&D for a living, but "ordinary users", many of whom I know from corporate America, can be just as "impulsive". Early adopters of the Blackberry largely got one because you could read and write email with it, facilitated by the back office server technology, and the QWERTY keyboard. Early adopters of the Macintosh got one because it had a multitasking windowing environment and an on-board network. I would never describe those folks as "impulse buyers", they are simply forward thinking technology adopters. And no, you can't get burned being an early adopter - you learn from it, and the vendor learns from you.
I would be an early adopter if money permitted. I love gadgets and enjoy playing around with them and seeing what they can do. I would be happy to pay a premium price to be able to play with a gadget shortly after it came to market.

While I am not an early adopter, as you define one, I am the early adopter of my social set. I constantly read up on new technology and buy new items as I can afford them.
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