Do you really need to be an early adopter?

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8 min read

When we talk about digitalization, we often celebrate early adopters and urge other companies to follow suit. But not every trend is destined to be a long-lasting success which begs the question: is the early adopter myth a story told only by the winners?

Content:

  1. The Diffusion of innovations
  2. Early adopters are risk takers
  3. Not every trend is worth an immediate investment
  4. Let your use cases guide the way
  5. Research the market (to see if it actually exists)
  6. Summary

As a company on its (ongoing) way to success, it's not necessary to be an early adopter. There's plenty of space between being an early adopter and a so-called "laggard", who migrates to new technologies a little too late. In fact, it can pay off a lot more to be part of the early or even late majority.

A short journey into the Diffusion of innovations concept

Some things are evergreens, such as Everett Rogers' book "Diffusion of Innovations" which was published in 1962 and is still being used as a foundation to explain innovation adoption and how it's usually weighed (source: Wikipedia).

According to Rogers' studies, Innovators and Early Adopters only make up roughly 16% of all users whereas the early and late majority are a whopping 68% with 16% "lagging" behind any innovation.

Bar Graph showing: Innovators: 2,5%; Early Adopters: 13,5%; Early Majority: 34%; Late Majority: 34%; Laggards: 16% / Source: Wikipedia

Now, one could assume that maybe innovators and early adopters are just smarter than the rest. But that would ignore how different company setups, mindsets, cultures, and risk evaluations play into the decision to adopt (and invest) early - or not.

Early adopters are risk takers

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Innovators and Early Adopters are described to take more risks and have financial liquidity which is a very important aspect that should not be underestimated. These people and companies can afford to lose.

Often, companies that want to take these risks have their own innovation hubs with very controlled environments for experimentation and testing. But even those companies have dedicated budgets and limitations on how far their adoption will go and they do evaluate which trends and technologies can actually aid their business.

Innovators and early adopters have the advantage that they can use these tests and experiments to eventually decide which trends are worth a proper roll-out. Additionally, they usually have certain best practices, standards and processes.

However, not every company has the means or even need to have an innovation hub. Plus, there are big advantages being part of the early and even late majority of adopters who can rely on market benchmarks, standards, best practices, compliance and data security, and even out-of-the-box solutions that are usually easier to implement, cheaper, less risky, and more scalable.

Not every trend is worth an immediate investment

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NFTs had a wild year, from being hyped across social media and by a surprising number of celebrities to being a constant source for news about fraud, art theft and hacked accounts. With the critical eye on NFTs, the technology behind it - crypto currencies & blockchain - have also been under scrutiny which heavily affected their market value.

For many early adopters/investors, this means

  • a loss of money
  • a less marketable technology
  • insecurity regarding future market potential
  • dealing with the prejudices connected to the technology (scam, fraud & hacking)

Likewise, the metaverse was part of many trend lists for 2023 and even Gartner mentions it as " a combinatorial innovation made up of multiple technology themes and capabilities". However, in early November 2022, Meta had to let go of 13% of its staff with CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitting that expected ad revenue did not meet the prognosed goals (source: via CNBC). Visitors of the Metaverse talk about empty spaces. Quoted user numbers are apparently 400 monthly active users but most of these are very young teenagers who are there for the gaming worlds (Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft) that Meta acquired previously.

Investing in the Metaverse right now - despite all the trend articles - therefore seems like a highly risky business with an uncertain future and a rather sobering present.

But I am not here to advice against innovation and excitement towards new technologies. Heck, I am marketing manager at a company called DIGITALL that supports companies on their way to the digital transformation. But just like we support our customers with evaluation and strategic methods to find the right solutions, it's important for every company and organization to find the right trends and technologies to invest in.

Let your use cases guide the way

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I am of the firm belief that investments in trends hurt, if they are based on FOMO - the fear of missing out. Especially for people who are very online and frequent social media daily, it can be hard to differentiate between the hype created by a lot of tech experts and enthusiasts online and the real-world applications, perceptions and uses.

A successful adoption of new technology can be almost guaranteed if the company has an actual use case that can increase productivity, optimize user experiences, enhance data insights, or otherwise better a company's processes, systems, and goals.

First things first: it is never bad to be interested in new trends.

Monitoring developments, educating yourself and asking questions is the foundation of identifying worthy investment and project opportunities. It might be worth it to look into an adoption strategy if:

  • You know what the technology really can do and what it potentially can do in the future
  • You have a fitting business case that could profit from this technology
  • You know that the development is already at a point where the technology runs smoothly, can be standardized (or customized), is compliant and works well with other systems without risks

For example, G5 has an immense potential to create vast opportunities for the internet of things and to increase cloud-based information- and collaboration networks. However, in many countries, regions, and neighborhoods, 5G does not yet have the full coverage to actually provide its promised advantages. If a company wants to invest in 5G technology, it should therefore not just evaluate its own use cases but also research local plans for 5G coverage.

Research the market to see if it actually exists

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Remember Google Glass? The much hyped and very expensive smart gadget that was introduced in 2013 for the B2C market? It failed miserably due to many reasons. In my humble opinion, the voices of the early adopters - often influencers with very close tech relations in the market - drowned out the overall lack of interest of the majority of potential users. The steep price tag and security concerns did the rest.

 

However, even though Google Glass does not exist anymore, it's technology is thriving. In fact, Google Glass itself now sells mostly to enterprises for workplace optimization. It has furthermore inspired research within the health sector.

In 2022, Google introduced a new version of glasses that can basically translate speech and show it as text in real-time. Back in 2013, the market message was to take pictures and send them via mail or social media. However, any smartphone could do this and much more.

In 2022, the market message is based on accessibility. It can help connect people of different backgrounds, cross language barriers and create more accessibility for people with hearing and/or speaking disabilities. It could potentially help people to communicate in loud environments such as construction sites, airports, etc. It can support people who are in a different country or are learning a new language. The value is not just bigger than previously but is also based on actual requirements and needs of many different target groups.

 

Summary: Be interested, Be thorough, Be pragmatic, Be creative

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Be interested - Look out for new trends, widen your horizon and stay interested in new technology, new platforms, even new cultural trends as they can also indicate shifts in people's behavior and world views.

Be thorough - If something sparks your interest, dig into the research, look beyond the catchy headlines and excited influencer voices and look at market stats, existing use cases, and the development status quo.

Be pragmatic - Outlooks and forecasts can help as a rough trend indicator but the last years have shown us that in the end, a virus, a war, even a stuck ship in a canal can disrupt everything and change the markets for years. Be realistic when you make plans, keep them aligned with your market, your customers, your business, your stakeholders, and look at the here and now when it comes to application possibilities.

Be creative - It' time to think outside of the box once you know about the workings and realities of a new technology and trend. Not every use case is clear cut. Sometimes, it helps to involve a variety of people to come up with use cases that can turn around the way your employees work, your customers engage with your or even how your portfolio looks like.


DIGITALL supports you along the way: our experts combine technological, strategic, and industry know-how to evaluate use cases, create roadmaps and implement new technologies so they fit your business. Find out more.

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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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