How To Win The Hearts And Minds Of Emerging Technology’s Ruling Class: The Early Adopters
Early adopters are key to the success of new marketing technologies, but how do you win them over? Columnist Erik Bratt gets some insight from several smart technologists.
If you’ve read Geoffrey A. Moore’s seminal book on technology, “Crossing the Chasm,” then you know the critical role that early adopters play in launching a new technology category.
Early adopters are the judge, jury, and yes, executioner when it comes to determining the success of a new technology category. Win them over, like the crowds at the Colosseum, and they will help propel your product across the chasm and into the hands of the early majority crowd. Fall into the abyss, and even the most promising tech may be doomed to obscurity.
Given the growth of the marketing technology landscape, there would appear to be more martech successes than not crossing the chasm. One recent successful crossing is tag management, a new type of application that makes it easier to manage and connect disparate technologies and data sources.
Tag management crossed the chasm quickly, within two years, according to Jeff Lunsford, CEO of Tealium (my employer), which provides enterprise tag management. “Other technology I’ve been involved in, such as internet banking and real-time Web analytics, took longer to cross because there was less pain, and the ROI was a little harder to prove,” he said. The graphic below shows Lunsford’s estimation of where the tag management market is now and how much growth remains.
So early adopters are key, but what makes them tick? What’s the attraction in buying an innovative but unproven technology? What are the risks and rewards? I set out to answer a few of these questions with the help of some smart technologists.
New Technology Erases The Slate, Enabling Faster Innovation
“New technologies, if built by the right talent/thinkers, have the benefit of starting from scratch,” Sarah Ryan, director of Marketing Systems at LegalZoom (disclosure: client), and a tag management user, said in an email conversation with me.
“They can learn from what their predecessors have done and improve upon those ideas. They don’t have to deal with years of technical debt and backwards compatibility, so they can frequently iterate more quickly and still maintain a high level of quality.”
“There are two compelling reasons for a business to be an early adopter of a technology. One, it addresses an acute pain they have that they don’t feel is well-addressed by the mainstream solutions currently available. Or two, there’s a credible competitive advantage offered by the technology that is particularly relevant to the business and its market — one that can be quantified by an objective performance metric,” Brinker said. “There are other benefits to actively exploring new technology, but in the absence of one of those two justifications, it’s particularly important to keep the boundaries of such investments in check.”
The Risk Is Worth The Reward When New Tech Delivers A Competitive Business Advantage… And Lower Pricing
“The obvious advantage of early adoption is [that] you beat your competitors at gaining the business value of whatever tool is being adopted,” technology expert David Raab of Raab Associates told me in an email conversation. “This can provide a significant head start, and sometimes, a first-mover advantage that is very difficult to overcome. You also have more input into the product design than later adopters. Early adopters get earlier insight into how the new tool does and doesn’t work, which lays the foundation for further experimentation.”
For Ryan, being an early adopter sometimes means the ability to pay less for cool innovation, as well as to give input into the direction of the technology.
“Pricing is always a big one. If you get in early, you take a risk, but you ultimately end up paying less,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to put time back into them in return, though, or the cost savings don’t tend to last. The bonus of making the time is that you have an opportunity to help mold and evolve their solution if you build the right relationship out of the gate.”
The risk is the technology ultimately doesn’t work … but early adopters appear to be a patient bunch.
“The main risk is the product won’t work,” Raab said. “If the reason is the underlying idea is bad, this is valuable information, since it frees you to invest in something else. But if the failure is due to the particular implementation, then it’s a problem because you might abandon something that will later work properly for someone else. For this reason, most ‘early adopters’ will not let a single failure deter them from pursuing an idea they believe is sound.”
The Need For Straight Talk And Proof Of Stability
Before they will take a gamble, early adopters want straight talk from smart people, and perhaps more importantly, proof of stability.
LegalZoom’s Ryan lists her top three criteria as:
One, the openness to talk through their solution and not hide behind a bunch of vagaries. Two, solid founders and management team who are smart and planning smartly for their business. They don’t have to be crazy well-known, but they need to have some level of believable background that fits with their new business. In other words, why are they the right ones to solve this particular problem, and why will they be able to do it better?
Finally, proof of stability. This includes everything from money in the bank to the tech stack choices that were made and how they plan on scaling. The way I look at it, if they fail, we fail. Looking closely at the stability of vendors can often be even more important than some of the internal choices because we don’t have control over their choices. There has to be a foundation of trust built from Day 1 that continues throughout the entire relationship, no matter how large either of us get.
For Nicholas Dureault, product manager for Analytics and Marketing at World Vision Canada (disclosure: client), which also leverages enterprise tag management, new technology needs to play well with other technologies they’ve already invested in.
“New technology needs to easily address one of our pain points while taking into consideration the way we currently do business. In addition, new technologies need to easily extend our capabilities into new areas that our current technology may not easily support. More importantly, new technology needs to play well with other technology we’ve committed to and play a huge part in building our ‘ecosystem,’” Dureault said.
But the single most important thing for winning the hearts and minds of early adopters is…
“Game plan. Show me that your product can help me execute on a part of my game plan or … transform my game plan into something better. Basically, show me how the product/service can save time, save money or make money,” Dureault said.