Who in the world are the early adopters?

I have been reading quite a bit about early adopters and ‘the chasm‘ in the context of the innovation adoption cycle. I think that I can add to this idea, by delving a bit into the psychological aspects of an early adopter. The girl who fell for the new guy in school.

You start looking for early adopters once your business operations take off. Your idea is in place and you have found your partner, you have got initial funding, and you have hired your first few employees who are going to help you create a tangible product or service. Something to market, that is. You reach out to fellow entrepreneurs and talk to people at conferences. To me, these are all the innovators. They will give  you advice on everything from how to run your business to user interface design. They will introduce you to more people, and make friendly recommendations. They might even offer to help you out in some way. Everybody’s excited about your business, and you can’t wait to get the word out. But who exactly is your audience? Who are these early adopters and how do you find them and get them onto your bandwagon?

You want to find some people who have had the sort of problems that your product wishes to solve. They have felt the discomfort, and your product will get them excited. Excited enough to express themselves- to blog, or tweet, or simply tell their friends and acquaintances about it. I think a lot of times people chase those people who have a perceived ‘social status’. They have a large number of followers on their blogs, twitter, or  youtube. They are highly active on various networks, and are the archetypal social butterflies. In my opinion, this is basically missing the vital chance of connecting with passionate people, who are appreciative of your insight and the solution that you’re offering. Don’t get me wrong, the social butterflies could probably feature in the ‘early majority’ bucket, but they are in it for the buzz. To me, they seem like the ones who will throw in a few platitudes, and add ‘#respect’ to their tweets every now and then.

These people are likely to lose interest in case things don’t pick up, and will pretend like they never knew about your idea or had anything to do with it. This is a mistake that a lot of organizations seem to make. They get carried away by the charismatic name-droppers, when the product or service is practically still in beta. As you will see, the business brought in by these people will be superficial and will exploit the loopholes of the product against your business in the long-run.

Your best find among the general population at whom your product/service is targeted at, are the HSPs among them. HSP or Highly Sensitive Persons are a category that was identified by Elaine Aron in her book released in 1996. She pegged the group at about 20% of the population, which seemed large enough to be perceived as not abnormal, but minority enough to be seen as different from the norm. These people matter to your business because they feel the difference you are trying to make. Their appreciation does not stop with a ‘like’. If correctly garnered as audience for your product, they will see you through the beta phase.

HSPs spread the word not by mentioning the name in every other conversation. They are truly expressive people (I describe such people as those who MUST tell a story simply because it needs to be told, and not because they want to be first or as a periodic blog update) who use blogs and other social networks to communicate meaningfully, and are not addicted to the hype like the late majority and laggards are. This is especially the case if they do not see reason for it, or if they think something ought to be improved to ease certain areas of discomfort. Their thoughtfulness shows in their suggestions of your product to people in the proper context, with a good sense of what to expect, and usually a follow-up, possibly brief conversation with the other person to discuss shared excitement or enthusiasm.

However, if they aren’t pleased with some aspects of the product, they WILL share feedback. They will write to  you, and form some sort of a relationship through correspondence. If you make it easy for their voices to be heard and views and reviews to be shared, you will realize that there is plenty of scope for improvement before the first of the majority come to have a peep. It will help you avoid bursting at the seams at a time when you are supposed to be speaking at TEDx and making highly-anticipated business deals. Responding and reassuring the HSPs will have them feel valued, and once delighted, they will probably be comfortable in expressing themselves on a larger scale.

Don’t underestimate their social status. People value the word of these conscientious people even if they aren’t jet-setting around the world and leading envy-worthy social lives. These are the Howard Roarks that don’t have to talk much during class, but everybody can see the intelligence in their eyes and in their questions. Or the professor whom everybody is in awe of- simply because he is seen for the genius that he is. They are high-performers in the cubicle, and are not particularly known to be excited about water-cooler conversations. These guys may probably not be innovating in the same field as you, but they are effective people in the world that they work in, and their word is valued because of amount of thought and insight it is loaded with. People take their recommendation seriously and check it out.

Know  your early-adopters. They will help you grow your business in size as well as substance.



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