The technology adoption lifecycle describes how new products, ideas or technologies disseminate through a population over time. By categorising attitudes towards new technology into five groups, the model helps businesses tailor their approach to the needs of different customers.

While frequently used by sales and marketing teams, the adoption curve concept is helpful for anyone tasked with rolling out a new product, service, or idea, such as learning and development teams delivering employee training on new workplace technology.

In this article, we’ll look in detail at the mindset and typical behaviour of each adopter category and explore how this knowledge can be used to enhance L&D programmes.

What is the adoption curve concept?

The adoption curve concept, also known as the diffusion of innovations theory, was first introduced by Everett Rogers in his 1962 book, “Diffusion of Innovations.” Rogers was a sociologist who studied how new ideas and technologies spread within communities.

Rogers categorised people into five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. He found that each group had its own characteristics and adopted new technology at a different rate.

The model has been widely used in many areas of business and has implications for all companies, not just those selling technology-based products and services. For example, marketers use the model to understand better consumer behaviour and how to approach an audience with new concepts. And in learning and development, it has a role to play in helping employees adopt new workplace technology.

In recent years, the model has been criticised, especially regarding its linearity and the assumption that all adopters are alike. However, it’s an influential model in technology management and marketing to explain and predict technology adoption and remains widely used in many fields, including the adoption of new medical practices, the spread of political ideologies, and the diffusion of new consumer products.

What are the 5 stages of technology adopters?

According to Rogers, the five adopter categories are distributed as follows:

  • 5% are Innovators
  • 5% are Early Adopters
  • 34% are Early Majorities
  • 34% are Late Majorities
  • 16% are Laggards

It’s important to note that the group of Laggards is much larger than the group of Innovators, at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Innovators (2.5%)

These are the first people to adopt new technology, products and services and are typically willing to take risks. They are often industry thought leaders. Technology vendors target innovators by reaching out to them directly and offering them early access to their products.

Although small in number (2.5% of the population), they play a crucial role as they are proactive, curious, and enthusiastic about new ideas and products.

They’re more than just willing to test new ideas and actively search for the most advanced options. They are motivated to find solutions to specific challenges – a more efficient banking method, a flexible and transparent pension option, or a way to invest their residual funds.

They continuously look for new information – studying, investigating, and registering for early access even before a product is publicly available. Innovators are often the first to be aware of new developments.

Behaviours typical of early innovators include:

  • Those who were in the queue overnight to buy the first-ever iPhone.
  • The first to experience staying in an Airbnb host’s spare room.
  • The first to open a Monzo digital bank account.
  • The first to ride with Uber rather than take a taxi.

Typical traits of the “Innovator” persona

  1. They’re quick to try new products and services.
  2. Open-minded and adventurous with innovative concepts.
  3. Well-educated and financially stable to be able to afford new gadgets.
  4. Knowledgeable about new technologies and how to use them.
  5. Actively engaged in testing and experimenting with new offerings.
  6. Considered trendsetters and leaders in their communities.
  7. Have a favourable view of new products and services.
  8. Assured in their decision-making abilities.
  9. Typically, stay up-to-date with industry advancements.
  10. Willing to invest in cutting-edge and innovative products.

Early adopters (13.5%)

These are the next group to adopt new technology, products and services and are typically more risk-averse than innovators. They’ll usually wait until the product or service receives some reviews before making a purchase.

They are often opinion leaders, highly regarded by their peers, and can influence the decision-making of others. Organisations can target early adopters by offering them product demonstrations, case studies, and other evidence that demonstrate their products’ value. This has become an established tactic, with brands spending large amounts of their marketing budget using well-known influencers to promote new products and services.

Behaviours typical of early adopters include:

  • Purchasing the latest smartphone model as soon as it is released, even if their current device is still functioning well.
  • Investing in new home automation technology, such as smart thermostats or smart lights.
  • Adopting a new social media platform before it becomes mainstream.
  • Trying out new virtual reality or augmented reality experiences.
  • Being one of the first to switch to electric vehicles or other alternative energy sources.
  • Participating in new health and wellness trends, such as wearable fitness trackers or plant-based diets.

Typical traits of the “Early Adopter” persona

  1. Adventurous in experimenting with new products and technologies.
  2. Open-minded towards innovations and often pioneers in adopting them.
  3. Typically well-educated and financially stable.
  4. Excited about trying new products and services and eager to experiment.
  5. Constantly searching for and participating in trials of new offerings.
  6. Regarded as leaders and trendsetters among their peers.
  7. Hold a positive view towards new products and services.
  8. Confident in their decision-making abilities.
  9. Well-informed about industry advancements and current trends.
  10. Willing to pay for new and innovative products before they become widely adopted.

Early majority (34%)

People in the early majority adopt new technology, products and services after it has been validated by early adopters. They are typically more cautious and need more proof before making a purchase.

Retailers can appeal to the early majority by providing product demonstrations, customer case studies, and testimonials.

Behaviours typical of early majority consumers include:

  • Delaying the purchase of a new smartphone until there is sufficient customer feedback or reviews.
  • Purchasing a popular tech product only when its price decreases.
  • Joining a new social media platform once many friends and family have signed up.
  • Avoid a new piece of exercise equipment until fitness experts widely recommend it.
  • Holding off on visiting a new restaurant until it becomes well-reviewed and popular among many sources.

Typical traits of the “early majority” persona

  1. Adopt new technology after it has been proven successful.
  2. More cautious and require more proof before buying.
  3. Pragmatic approach to new products and services.
  4. Wait-and-see attitude towards new technologies.
  5. Rely on trusted sources for info and recommendations.
  6. Not involved in the early adoption of new ideas/products.
  7. Not trendsetters or influencers.
  8. Lower levels of education or income compared to early adopters.
  9. Adopt a product/service after it becomes widely adopted.

 Late majority: (34%)

The late majority, who make up 34% of the market, is a significant group of consumers. These people adopt new technology only after it has been widely adopted and proven to be successful. They are typically the most risk-averse group and require the most evidence before making a purchase.

They tend to be conservative, wary of new technology, and prioritise cost over innovation. They are also more likely to be influenced by the decisions of others and may only adopt a product or service once it has become widely accepted.

Retailers can target the late majority by offering them detailed product information, customer testimonials, and guarantees of satisfaction.

Behaviours typical of the late majority include:

  • Waiting for a movie to be released on streaming services before watching it.
  • Being comfortable with a traditional mobile phone for communication and wary of new technology.
  • Sticking to cash payments and shying away from new digital payment methods.
  • Only shopping in stores and cautious of trying new online retailers.
  • Waiting for a restaurant to be highly recommended before trying it.
  • Using well-known social media sites and hesitant to experiment with new platforms.

Typical traits of the “late majority” persona

  1. Doubtful of new concepts or technologies.
  2. Rather rely on tried and tested methods.
  3. Requires confirmation from others before adoption.
  4. Apprehensive about taking risks or dealing with ambiguity.
  5. Conducts thorough research before making a decision.
  6. Has low urgency to adopt new developments.
  7. Relies on familiar sources for information and guidance.
  8. Has a fear of error or making a poor investment.
  9. Prioritises the practicality and cost-effectiveness of new solutions.
  10. Prefers slow and gradual changes rather than revolutionary innovations.

 Laggards (16%)

These are the last people to adopt new technology and are typically resistant to change. They are a large group of people, representing 16% of the total. They require the most evidence before making a purchase.

Retailers can target laggards by offering them detailed product information, customer testimonials, and guarantees of satisfaction, as well as addressing their specific concerns and objections.

Behaviours typical of laggards include:

  • Avoiding the use of digital platforms such as online banking, e-commerce, or cloud storage.
  • Using outdated equipment or software instead of upgrading to new technology.
  • Opposing the introduction of new business processes or organisational modifications.
  • Being slow to implement new marketing or sales approaches.
  • Being reluctant to adopt environmentally friendly or sustainable practices.
  • Not keeping pace with advancements in the industry or field.
  • Holding on to traditional products or services despite changes in the market.
  • Adhering to outdated methods of production or manufacturing despite advancements in automation and efficiency.
  • Not actively seeking new markets or expanding into new territories.
  • Failing to adapt to evolving customer needs and preferences.

Typical traits of the “laggard” persona

  1. May not have exposure to new products or services.
  2. Depend on the opinions of others rather than forming their own.
  3. Often have less education and financial resources.
  4. May view new products or services with cynicism.
  5. Have a cautious approach to new opportunities.
  6. Tend to be less informed about current developments in their field.
  7. Only adopt new products or services when they become widespread or necessary.
  8. Refuse to use new technology or digital platforms.
  9. Stick with traditional and familiar methods, even if they are less efficient.
  10. Avoid learning new skills or acquiring new knowledge.
  11. Resistant to change, even in the face of new challenges or opportunities.
  12. Reluctant to try new products or services.

The technology adoption curve chasm

The technology adoption curve chasm, also known as the “chasm” or the “early market chasm,” refers to the gap between the early adopters and the early majority in the technology adoption curve. This gap represents a challenge for retailers, as it can be difficult to transition from early adopters to the early majority.

According to Geoffrey Moore, who wrote the book “Crossing the Chasm“, the reason for the gap is that early adopters are willing to take risks and try new products, while the early majority is more sceptical and requires more evidence before making a purchase. The early majority also tends to be more mainstream, and their purchasing decisions are influenced by the opinion leaders in their community.

To cross the chasm, retailers need to tailor their marketing and sales efforts to the early majority by offering them more evidence-based information about the product, such as case studies and customer testimonials, and addressing the specific concerns and objections of this group.

Tactics could include:

  • Targeting a specific market segment.
  • Ensuring a strong product-market fit and addressing product weaknesses.
  • Having a clear value proposition and messaging that appeals to the early majority.
  • Building partnerships and alliances with established companies and industry leaders.
  • Providing education and support to help early majority customers feel confident adopting the new technology.

The chasm model does have its critics. MIT Sloan School of Management professor Erik Brynjolfsson has argued that it oversimplifies the role of technology in the market, and Alexander Osterwalder, a prominent business strategy consultant, criticised the theory for its limited applicability to current market conditions. However, the concept of a chasm in the technology adoption curve is widely recognised as a challenge that retailers must overcome to bring products to market successfully.

Applying the Adoption Curve to learning and development

Understanding the mindset of learners is a vital prerequisite of any successful learning and development programme, and the adoption curve offers a useful perspective on learners’ attitudes to novel subjects.

Dr Mark Murphy, author of “Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” states that “The first step in creating effective learning experiences is understanding the mindset of learners. We must understand how they think, how they process information, and what motivates them.” Delivering successful learning outcomes depends on matching the content, format and delivery of learning to the mindset of the learner. This is because different individuals have different learning styles, motivations, and goals.

Learning and development professionals can apply the five categories of Rogers’s model, tailoring the learning experience to reflect the receptivity of learners based on their classification as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority or laggards.

Here are some practical ways the technology adoption curve can be applied to an L&D context:

  • Getting an innovator or early adopter on board with new workplace processes as part of a digital transformation programme will be a lot easier and quicker than for the late majority or laggards.
  • Course and content creators can use the model to understand the mindset of learners and take this into account when creating a relevant learning experience.
  • Understanding learners’ mindsets this way can identify and address any barriers that may prevent them from achieving their full potential.
  • Innovators and early adopters can be used as peer-level examples of learning success to bridge the gap’ between employees who are willing to embrace new learning and early and late majority employees who may be more reluctant and sceptical.

By understanding the learner mindset, HR and L&D professionals can tailor courses and content to meet the needs of individual learners and create a more effective learning experience.

In Summary

The Technology Adoption Curve helps to explain why some products and ideas are widely adopted, while others fail to gain traction.

By understanding the different stages of adoption and the characteristics of each segment, businesses and organisations can tailor their marketing, innovation and L&D strategies to target and engage with different groups of adopters more effectively.

If you’d like to know how Omniplex Guide can help your team, get in touch or book a free product tour.