Tech companies may have to gear their products to a new set of consumers instead of “early adopters,” as audiences for their products grow to enclose larger swaths of the general population.
Mobile phone and computer manufacturers have previously marketed their newest hardware to a specific 10 percent of the population: so-called “early adopters.” These often younger, tech-savvy customers are willing to shell out big bucks and line up at 6 a.m. on release day to grab the hot new smartphone or tablet.
But as technology companies face unique challenges as the mobile market moves into its middle age, companies could be shifting away from flashy new tech toward long-term stability.
Early adopters can propel a new device to success if it’s well-received, starting a trend that boosts sales and makes industry giants out of startups. But recently, focus is shifting to another consumer archetype: the “first dropper.”
First droppers are the too-cool-for-school types — among the first to start a trend, but also among the first to abandon it once it goes mainstream.
“The first dropper is sexy because he’s a rugged individualist and scary because he’s always upending what others consider hip,” said Greg Behr from marketing firm GBW Strategies, who coined the term.
Growing evidence suggests a large percentage of early adopters rather quickly become first droppers, since they’re focused on new trends. The turnover is problematic for tech companies spending millions to target an initial consumer base that soon abandons their products for the next new thing.
Instead of spending millions to target the quicksilver preferences of the next wave of early adopters, companies might do better to focus on why they left in the first place and anticipate where they’re headed.
“The person who decides that something is no longer relevant can be just as impactful, even more impactful, than the one who anointed it,” says Noah Kerner, co-author of “Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today’s Cluttered Marketplace.”
Facebook, for example, pays attention to shifting consumer trends. “MySpace basically failed to keep up. But Facebook keeps becoming something new,” says Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr. “Twitter gets popular, so Facebook becomes more like Twitter. People get obsessed with checking in on Foursquare, so Facebook adds Places to essentially keep FourSquare at bay.”
By integrating new and emerging trends into its ecosystem, Facebook pleases the general population. Facebook might be too little, too late for those finicky early adopters and first droppers, but in return, billions of users in the middle remain satisfied enough to stay.
Loyal, long-term customers can decide the fate of a company as much as that fickle 10 percent, and companies striving for longevity in an ever-changing field will pay attention to a decidedly un-cool demographic: those slouching toward middle age and beyond, who wish to stay connected and tech-efficient without changing devices every three months.
Mobile technology is here to stay, no longer a novelty for most consumers. New demographics and consumer attitudes mean new challenges for the tech industry, and how companies navigate those new challenges will dictate if they’ll survive in the emerging era as mobile technology continues to go mainstream and become part of everyday life.