I had a conversation with a reporter last week who was writing a story on how to market to early adopters.  It got me thinking about how much marketing and product come together to improve adoption of a new product or service.  Research shows that there are a set of factors that effect the rate of adoption of a new innovation.  Clearly product characteristics are a critical factor each of these but there isn’t a single one where marketing can’t have at least some impact.

1/ Complexity – The difficulty in understanding the offering will impact how quickly it gets adopted.  Leaving the obvious product implications aside, marketing has a big job here to clearly describe the offering, what it does and when it would be appropriate to adopt it.  Product descriptions need to be short and use simple language – no matter how complex the product (and this is often really hard to do).  You need to answer the question “What do you do?” in no more than a couple of sentences and still be specific enough that customers get it.

2/ Compatibility – Compatibility refers to the degree to which the offering aligns with the market’s current philosophy, culture, and values.  In short, how easy is it for customers to integrate the new offering into their life?  Customer case studies, use cases and scenarios can all help illustrate how the offering can fit into a broader context for customers.

3/ Relative advantage – This is how much of an improvement the new offering is over existing alternatives (and this includes doing nothing).  Clearly communication has a big role to play here.  The trick is expressing this in terms of customer benefit and getting as specific and quantifiable as possible.  Saying your product is “faster” doesn’t mean as much as saying you can “improve production output by 200%.”  Just remember that if you’re using numbers they need to be coming from a credible source (That’s my nice way of saying you shouldn’t lie.  Customers notice that sort of thing.)

4/ Trialability – How easy the offering is to experiment with will have a big impact on adoption rates.  Web startups have this point down cold – make it easy for folks to sign up and get started with your product and then present them with paid offerings later.  For hardware offerings, software that gets installed on-premise, or more expensive enterprise software, this is often not an option.  Trial versions or stripped down versions work in some cases.  I once had a product with an average selling price of close to half a million dollars and it required a team of consultants to get it installed and running.  In that case we relied heavily on screencasts, flash demos and video.  Don’t forget the oldie but goodie technique of having a prospect do a site visit with an existing customer.

5/ Observability – Peer influence plays a big part in adoption, even for early adopters.  Again, web-based businesses are leading the way with products that have built-in social elements such as Facebook apps that update your timeline so your friends can see you are using the product or services that prompt you to post a Tweet as a condition of use.  I like services like Rypple (for giving and receiving anonymous feedback) or ECHOage (giving-oriented kid’s parties) that by their nature require users to invite other people.  The Google technique of giving invitations to a select group of people who then later are granted the privilege of inviting their friends to use the service is another great example of a way to increase observability.

Further reading – A lot of the thinking around how innovations get adopted comes from Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations which was then expanded on by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm

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