Research on Trends: Influentials, Innovators & Early Adopters

This content discusses the phenomenon of trends, noting five distinct consumer segments and their influence on trends.

This content discusses the phenomenon of trends, noting five distinct consumer segments and their influence on trends.

Of late, clients have expressed interest in conducting ongoing attitudinal and behavioral research in an effort to spot emerging patterns and trends relative to a host of ‘product’ consumption areas: entertainment, culture, consumer goods, as well as fashion and travel and leisure products.

Most have expressed that they want to learn, on an ongoing basis, what U.S. male and female adults believe is currently ‘hot’ with regards to popular culture and social trends and how this foretells new opportunities. Beyond that, among other objectives, they have also expressed that they would like to be able to identify potential ‘hits’ before they actually do become so. For this objective, they would require a ‘new’ analytic perspective to enable them to help realize this capability.

In order for such information to maximally pay off, resulting trend data, once obtained, need a customized approach to interpretation. There are specialized analytic techniques to provide optimal direction for ‘trendspotting’ emerging cultural and social-psychological trends that will likely impact new entertainment, fashion, and consumer goods opportunities.

Discussion: Evolution of a 'Hit'
For each and every latest hit TV show, movie, Broadway show, successful novel, latest rage in fashion, cosmetics and accessories product, automobile, cell phone, computer, home entertainment breakthrough, vacation spa and consumer product, the diffusion of tastes and preferences which directly make any phenomenon a ‘hit’ requires a very definite evolutionary process.

It is a marketing process that requires, in fact, a segment of ‘special’ consumers’ who ultimately become responsible for making that phenomenon a ‘hit’. The process is termed either ‘buzz’ or ‘word of mouth’ and requires that several different marketplace subgroups be identified in order to ensure that the required evolutionary ‘hit’-making process is achieved:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

What Makes a 'Hit'?

  1. There must be an ‘idea’ that can be spread
  2. The ‘spreading’ is called ‘buzz’ or word of mouth
  3. The buzz is spread by those who are ‘experts’ or ‘influentials’ who tell their friends or colleagues about the new ‘idea’ (e.g., TV show, movie, novel, product, fashion designer, etc.). ‘Experts’ enjoy credibility among their peers so that their word is taken as ‘gospel’.
  4. Innovators or Early Adopters are the ones who first buy or ‘buy into’ your idea, but they must also be the ones to spread word of mouth and buzz.
  5. Every market and product category contains these initiators who spread word of mouth. These are usually the Early Adopters. Finding and seducing this important group is an essential step in creating a ‘hit‘.
  6. Early Adopters are more eager to talk about your new ‘product’. Beyond this, the ‘idea’ migrates to the masses. This migration has been called ‘diffusion of innovation’.

Some new 'products' catch on and more do not. It's no accident. When an idea succeeds, it's because several dynamics have occurred smoothly:

  1. An idea creates excitement and is seen as worthy of ‘buzz’.
  2. Word of mouth is smoothly and easily spread. ‘Viral’ marketing campaigns can be planned and implemented to help expedite the process.
  3. Early Adopters and Innovators ‘spread’ it to their friends and colleagues regularly.
  4. The initial target group of Innovators and Early Adopters is tightly connected—they communicate frequently with credibility amongst themselves and to the Early and Late Majority.
  5. How persistent is the ‘idea’? Is it a fad that needs to spread quickly before it dies or will it have ‘legs’?

These are dynamics or signals that can be examined regarding any new idea to determine whether or not it is likely to catch on and become worthy of launching.

Who Are the 'Players' in the Game?

The True 'Market Makers'
On the preceding idea diffusion curve, the bulk of acceptance (e.g., ‘sales’) comes after the product or idea has been adopted by those consumers willing to take a chance on something new. Innovators and Early Adopters—typically representing 20% of a market—are the true market makers who create the environment in which the Early and Late Majority feel safe buying (into) the new product or idea. The sales that matter don’t come until the left part of the curve (Innovators and Early Adopters) is completely sold, even though the bulk of total overall sales come later on from the Early and Late Majority.

Characteristics of the Five Segments
The vast majority of the curve (Early, Late Majority and Laggards) ignores most marketing efforts at the earliest stages until they are convinced that the product or idea is not a fad. Successful new products, the ‘hits’, are most sought by Innovators and Early Adopters soon after introduction:

  • Purchases and ‘buy-in’s are first made by Innovators who are the ones who like having something first. They might not even need the product; they just ‘want’ the satisfaction of being first. Innovators are the folks who sit in the front row at a fashion show, go to Internet World and read edgy trade and consumer journals.
  • Early Adopters are the group who actually benefit from using a new product or service who want to maintain their edge over the rest of the population by seeking out new products and services. It could be a new investment or TV show, but for any significant market, this segment is sizeable and willing to spend money at an early stage.
  • The Early and Late Majority don’t necessarily yearn for a new product or service that can be of benefit, but if enough of their peers try it and discuss it, these followers will come along. This group is keenly adept at ignoring marketing communications. They, especially those in the Late Majority, often ignore Innovators on the left side of the curve: they want protocols, systems and safety that new products rarely offer. Many new products fail to reach this part of the curve.
  • Laggards are the last ones in. They are the ones who finally get around to buying a VCR when everyone else has moved onto DVD players. They don’t use anything new until it’s so old that what they had used is obsolete, impractical or unavailable.

Major Requirements for Producting 'Hits'

  • Need to sell to those who like new items, who like change, who are actively looking for what you sell.
  • Products that are unique or ‘remarkable’ enough to attract Early Adopters—but are flexible and attractive enough for Early Adopters to have an easy time spreading ‘buzz’ and ‘selling’ the rest of the curve.

- June 2005

This content was provided by WAC Survey and Strategic Consulting. Visit their website at

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