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As the revised edition of this book is being written, it is 1998, and for this time we have seen a commercial release of the electric car. General Motors makes one, and Ford and Chrysler are sure to follow. Let's assume the cars work like any other, except they are quieter and better for the environment. Now the question is: When are you going to buy one?The Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Your answer to the preceding question will tell a lot about how you relate to the Technology Adoption Life Cycle., a model for understanding the acceptance of new products. If your answer is, "Not until hell freezes over," you are probably a very late adopter of technology, what we call in the model a laggard. If your answer is, "When I have seen electric cars prove themselves and when there are enough service stations on the road," you might be a middle-of-the-road adopter, or in the model, the early majority. If you say, "Not until most people have made the switch and it becomes really inconvenient to drive a gasoline car," you are probably more of a follower, a member of the late majority. If, on the.other hand, you want to be the first one on your block with an electric car, you are apt to be an innovator or an early adopter.
In a moment we are going to take a look at these labels in greater detail, but first we need to understand their significance. It turns out our attitude toward technology adoption becomes significantat least in a marketing senseany time we are introduced to products that require us to change our current mode of behavior or to modify otherproducts and services we rely on. In academic terms, such change-sensitive products are called discontinuous innovations. The contrasting term, continuous innovations, refers to the normal upgrading, of products that does not require us to change behavior.
For example, when Crest promises you whiter teeth, that is a continuous innovation. You still are brushing the same teeth in the same way with the same toothbrush. When Ford's new Taurus promises better mileage, when Dell's latest computer promises faster processing times and more storage space, or when Sony promises sharper and brighter TV pictures, these are all continuous innovations. As a consumer, you don't have to change your ways in order to take advantage of these improvements.
On the other hand, if the Sony were a high-definition TV, it would be incompatible with today's broadcasting standards, which,would require you to seek out special sources of programming. This would be a discontinuous innovation because you would have to change your normal TV-viewing behavior. Similarly if the new Dell computer were to come with the Be operating system, it would be incompatible with today's software base. Again, you would be required to seek out a whole new set of software, thereby classifying this too as a discontinuous innovation. Or if the new Ford car, as we just noted, required electricity instead of gasoline, or if the new toothpaste were a mouthwash that did riot use a toothbrush, then once again you would have a product incompatible with your current infrastructure of supporting components. In all these cases, the innovation demands significant changes by not only the consumer but also the infrastructure. That, is how and why such innovations come to be called discontinuous.
Between continuous and discontinuous hes a spectrum of demands for change. TV dinners, unlike microwave dinners, didnot require the purchase of a new oven, but they did require the purchase of more freezer space. Color-TV programming did not, like VCRs, require 'mvestinr in and mastering a new technology, but they did require buying a new TV and learmng more about turning and antennas than many of us wanted to learn. The special washing instructions for certain fabrics, the special street lanes reserved for bicycle riders, the special dialing instructions for calling overseasall represent some new level of demand on the consumer to absorb a chdn e in behavior. Sooner or later, all businesses must make these demands. And so it is that all businesses can profit,by lessons, from high-tech industries.
Whereas other industries introduce discontinuous innovations only occasionally and with much trepidation, high-tech en@ terprises do so routinely and as confidently as a born-again Christian holding four aces. From their inception, therefore, high-tech industries needed a marketing model that coped effectively with this type of product introduction. Thus the Technology Adoption Life Cycle became central to the entire sector's approach to marketing. (People are usually amused to learn that the original research that gave rise to this model was done. on the adoption of new strains of seed potatoes among American farmers. Despite these,agrarian roots, however, the model has thoroughly transplanted itself into the soil of Silicon Valley.)
The model describes the market penetration of any new technology product in terms. of a progression in the types of consumers it attract throughout its useful life:
As you can see, we have a bell curve. The divisions in the curve are roughly equivalent to where standard deviations would fall. That is, the early majority and the late majority fall within one standard deviation of the mean, the early adopters and the laggards within two, and way out there, at the very onset of a new technology, about three standard deviations from the norm, are the innovators.
The groups are distinguished from each other by their characteristic response to a discontinuous innovation based on a new technology. Each group represents a unique psychographic profilea combination of psychology and demographics that makes it marketing responses different from those of the other groups. Understanding each profile and its relationship to its neighbors is a critical component of high-tech marketing lore.