Squid soup, part I: The Myth of the Product Adoption Lifecycle

One of the most important ideas in business writing is certainly Geoff Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. In it, he talks about the bell curve that indicates how any population will respond to a new technology.(Espen Andersen points out that the real source is the Diffusion of Innovations, by Rogers. My apologies to Everett).

Bellcurve2The little green tail on the left represent the few, the brave, the innovators. These are the geeks and the nerds that love new stuff. The black segment next to it are the early adopters (not adapters, that means something else) that embrace new ideas that help them do the rest of their lives more productively. The next group picks up new ideas a little more slowly (these are the folks who bought an iPod last year) and the next group completes the mass market (these are the ones that will buy an iPod next year). The last group are the laggards and they still have a record player.

One of the giant insights of the new marketing is that the only way to introduce a new idea is to move across the curve. Sell to the little tail, they tell the next group, which passes the word on to the mass market. That’s why the little tiny green tail is so valuable… these are the people who are listening, these are the people who will become your marketing force.

So, where’s the myth?

The myth is that marketers think these people actually care.

People don’t care, certainly not about marketers.

The vast majority of new products never show up anywhere on this curve. A new restaurant opens in Manhattan and the foodies don’t materialize. A new consulting practice, based on a challenging and proven idea, opens up but leading edge companies never become clients. A fresh new face decides to run for city council but the political junkies don’t sign her petition.

The truth is that for most ideas, for most markets, nothing happens at all.