15 October 2011

All Hail The Early Adopters: 4 Reasons To Thank The Fanatics

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Moderate Fanboy

It’s predictable: Apple releases a new product, and the devout start camping out at the Temple O’ Jobs to be one of the first to lay their hands upon it.

And just as predictably, people will ridicule these fanatics, usually with aspersions about their sex lives (or lack thereof). Note this tweet from comedian Aisha Tyler…

Aisha Tyler tweet

These same cooler-than-thou critics, though, never mock the thousands of fans who line up for nosebleed seats and overpriced food and even inclement weather at a sporting event, even though the same game is on TV and could end in a depressing way.

Nor do they mock the Hollywood entourages who absolutely MUST see a movie on opening night, even if it’s been ripped by critics and will appear on DVD in three months.

So what’s the difference between the Apple fanboys and those who line up early for rock concerts, conventions, sporting events, autographs, theme parks, Black Friday shopping, hot Christmas toys, a new designer line at Target, or some trendy nightclub?

The answer: the hardcore techies actually provide value to the rest of us.

Apple Store New York

The faithful wait to enter the shrine (photo by Rob DiCaterino from Jersey City, NJ, via Wikimedia Commons).

1. They test the waters. Any new product, whether it’s a car or Broadway play, usually has glitches when it first hits the market. I dig Apple products, but usually wait three months so Apple can kill the bugs. But someone has to go first, and ideally it’s someone with the tech savvy (and enthusiasm) to identify and explain the glitches. While the rest of us blow gaskets when our tech toys develop problems, the techies not only don’t get flustered, they relish the opportunity to flaunt their bug-hunting savvy. We count on these unpaid product testers to write the early reviews on Amazon and CNET that guide our delayed purchases.

2. They serve as influencers. Early adopters, particularly hardcore fanatics, help spread the word as other consumers seek out their insights. Whether we’re talking a new phone, horror movie, or restaurant, marketers have always leveraged influencers to spread the word — early religions called them “preachers” and “evangelists” — since that’s far more efficient and cost-effective than targeting millions of consumers one-by-one or running a Super Bowl spot. Influencers are particularly valuable in social media, since they rush to issue their passionate verdicts on blogs, YouTube, and message boards, where followers await their word from on high. Their early enthusiasm or disdain also tells marketers whether a product is worth further investment or should be quietly shelved.

3. They initiate the buying that leads to economies of scale. New tech products are expensive to begin with, since they haven’t been manufactured in enough quantity to reduce costs. Some companies intentionally cut their margins (or even take a loss) to have a low “penetration price” from the get-go. But most companies need to charge full price at launch, and the early adopters willingly pay those “skimming” prices to be first (they’re the fashionistas of tech). Because they get the ball rolling, providing essential early profits for the company, the rest of us can wait. Without a sizeable crowd of early adopters, the rest of us only get a lower price when the company dumps its remaining inventory (see “$99 HP Touchpad”).

4. They raise the bar. Those queues in front of trendy clubs are a form of marketing, since they signal to passersby that there’s something inside worth wasting hours of your life. However, in order to ensure that fanatics will line up not just once but on every occasion, a company needs to consistently innovate and conjure up something OMG-worthy. When the lines disappear (or fail to materialize), you know your products have become commodities, right Dell?

Now, I love Apple products, but I won’t camp out for them or even wait in line. (I’m generally allergic to queues, particularly if they involve velvet rope.) However, I give serious iProps to those who do. These tech adventurers go out of their way at their own expense to facilitate and popularize our favorite toys — technology like smartphones and Twitter that some comedian will later use to ridicule them.

Now if I could only find someone who’d wait in line for me at the grilled cheese truck…

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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12 years ago

I’m with you when it comes to most products. Unfortunately, owning the new iPhone isn’t the same…early adopters used to be everything you wrote. Now the majority of those waiting in line for new iPhones don’t know enough about tech to give us worthwhile reviews. They do it because they think the cool kids do it. That makes them sheep — not the independent thinkers and trendsetters of old.

Matt Sharper
Matt Sharper
11 years ago
Reply to  Dan

They do it because they think the cool kids do it. That makes them sheep — not the independent thinkers and trendsetters of old.