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The first Apple iPhone launched in the US in 2007, priced at a confident $600. Particularly confident given it was a completely new product for Apple, launching into a brand new market. Despite this, it found a core audience prepared to pay over the odds to own this new market disruptor. In return, these individuals came to be regarded as thought leaders, their early reviews shaping wider market opinion on the iPhone, and helping springboard it into the mass market.

These initial purchasers are known in marketing as ‘early adopters’, and they are a small but critical segment of buyers. The term comes from Everett Rogers’ ‘Diffusion of innovations’ theory, a model that charts how new products or ideas move from launch to an established market position.

Diffusion of innovations chart

For businesses, being an early adopter of a winning technology can have far-reaching benefits through the length and breadth of their business: gaining advantage over their competitors, increasing productivity or lowering costs. For the technology company, finding their first believers can kick-start their product into the mainstream, and have a fundamental impact on its evolution and market dissemination.

The argument for early adoption

In the digital age, robust, fit-for-purpose software ranks alongside competent staff and cash flow as a business-critical asset. So it stands to reason that business owners take new software purchases seriously. 

However, evaluating software is not just high pressure, but highly complex. As business needs are so specialised, it’s not a given that the market leader is the best choice for their business. It depends on a number of factors – functionality, cost, time to roll out – which business leaders need to carefully assess before making a decision. 

With technology continually improving, new software products often trump their longstanding rivals by taking advantage of these advancements. Smaller tech companies move more quickly than their larger rivals, meaning they can bring innovations to market swiftly, and in turn benefit their clients through creating a competitive edge. 

In general terms, the central benefit of early adoption is a competitive edge via early access to a software that will save time or money. This can be through strategies such as:

  • Automating processes previously done manually
  • Improving efficiency
  • Streamlining business operations
  • Providing enhanced insights
  • Improving customer communications to increase retention

Obviously, the earlier businesses implement these time- and money-saving changes, the earlier they reap these benefits.

A mutually beneficial relationship

Another key advantage for early adopters is the support from the software business itself. As an initial client, the business will be heavily invested in the adopter’s success, and keen to work closely with them and champion their business. For younger or smaller businesses, this advocacy can be a powerful persuading factor. The chance to be a ‘big fish in a small pond’ can be advantageous, as the business has a voice within the software company and chance to work in partnership.

Early adopters will generally get top-tier customer service, and may even benefit from additional product enhancements, such as custom functionality, to assist the successful uptake of the technology within their business. In turn, working closely with their customer helps the software business gain deeper insight into their target buyer’s needs. 

Additionally, the software business hopes to kick-start adoption through a positive endorsement of their product, either through word of mouth or ideally a case study they can use to win future customers. 

Characteristics of the early adopter

Early adopters are business pioneers, generally younger or newly appointed, who are hungry to find progressive solutions that solve legacy challenges. They have vision beyond imitating competitors, and industry knowledge that allows them to confidently anticipate the future of the market.

Positioning themselves at the forefront of change, they often come to be regarded as thought leaders within their space, their influence rising at the same time as  the uptake of the software. This is often furthered through collaborations with the software company down the line, such as public speaking engagements or other promotional partnerships. 

Early adoption in the automotive industry

R3DT is a virtual reality tool for industrial engineers, which replaces physical prototyping with VR. This new tool allows users to create, mould and revise designs with their hands, using motion tracking technology from Ultraleap, within a virtual environment.

In the automotive industry, car assembly lines must be mocked up before it is built, to help recognise flaws, in a process known as cardboard engineering. While this testing phase helps identify issues, it’s still a substantial and lengthy process.

R3DT has allowed early adopters to dramatically cut prototyping time, as well as providing an enhanced insight into potential issues. One major automotive partner has saved an average of 30% of costs on the prototyping phase, and reduced their deployment time by weeks.

A strategic investment

There’s a reason not everyone is an early adopter: not everyone can be. Knowledgeable, adventurous, instinctive and bold, early adopters do not tend to be mere business leaders in title, but natural leaders in life. While the energy and effort required to find a ‘best fit’ product can require a steeper upfront cost than following the status quo, those willing to make the investment can find it’s a strategy that pays off far into the future, both for their business, and their own personal reputation.

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