Successfully selling tech innovations

New tech products and services are difficult to market. Some customers may be hesitant to try new technology, and others may not understand it. 

There’s a lot of different types of content out there. We’ll get to the list shortly but needless to say, it can be difficult to determine where you should focus your content marketing dollar. That’s where the Diffusion of Innovations theory may be helpful.

Everett Rogers, a professor of rural sociology, first popularized this theory in 1962. In essence, his theory explains how innovations are adopted and spread amongst populations and organizations. His ideas have been tested in more than 6,000 research studies and field tests across countless industries, making Diffusion of Innovations one of the most reliable theories in social science. 

But beyond sociology, it’s also a popular theory in marketing because diffusion determines the success or failure of any new product or idea a company introduces to a market.

Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory

I would argue that one of the best-known aspects of Rogers’ theory employed in marketing is using the five different user groups to segment customers based on their attitudes towards an innovation. But in reality, that’s only a tiny sliver of the whole. Innovators, for example, are motivated by different factors than Laggards. Knowing how to reach each category can lead to an increase in conversions.

5 Influencing Factors

Rogers outlined five intrinsic qualities of an innovation that influence adoption and determine success. Each of these factors plays out differently in each of the five adopter segments.

1. Relative Advantage

How much better the innovation is perceived to be than the idea, program, or product it replaces, measured according to the needs of the user – this could be an economic advantage, social prestige, convenience, or satisfaction. The greater the perceived relative advantage, the faster the adoption rate.

What this means for your content marketing: Keep an open mind when discussing your innovation’s benefits. Not only does relative advantage change for each individual, it also shifts as market penetration advances through the five user segments. For example, Innovators like to be cutting-edge, while Early Adopters chase social prestige and the Early Majority want convenience.

2. Compatibility

How consistent the innovation is with the values, experiences, and needs of potential adopters. An incompatible innovation is adopted more slowly.

What this means for your content marketing: In the B2B marketing world, marketing is expanding beyond talking only about business needs. It’s becoming increasingly important to discuss how an innovation is consistent with both a businesses’ values (think diversity, inclusion, sustainability, equality, or social justice) and its customers’ values and experiences.

3. Complexity

How difficult the innovation is to understand and use. Having to develop news skills in order to use the innovation also slows down the rate of adoption.

What this means for your content marketing: This is why many software programs or app interfaces look similar. Or why companies invest so much money into developing free Learning Academies that teach, test and certify users. If you can’t simplify the product any further, shortening the learning curve as much as possible is the next best thing – either by piggy-backing off a past experience, or providing great teaching resources. This is also another important reason to invest in quality UI/UX.

4. Triability

The extent to which an innovation can be tested or experimented with on a limited basis, thereby reducing uncertainty for the user. 

What this means for your content marketing: 75% of SaaS companies offer a free trial for a reason. It helps increase sales, plain and simple. Freemium-to-paying conversion rates typically range between 2-5%, while free trial products requiring credit cards are close to 30% or higher. If you can’t make your product triable, instead turn your attention to proving observability.

5. Observability

The easier it is for users to see the results of an innovation for themselves, the more likely they are to adopt it, thereby lowering uncertainty and stimulating peer discussion.

What this means for your content marketing: Innovators and Early Adopters don’t need too many customer success stories or testimonials to sway them. Conceptual white papers and case studies are great ways to highlight potential relative advantages. However, as adoption progresses through Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards, fact-backed success stories become more and more important. These hold-outs hate risk and become increasingly uncomfortable with the innovation. Focus on highlighting established standards, social norms and demonstrating how people with similar reservations have successfully adopted the innovation.

Don’t stress if you have limited observability in your early days. From experience, it’s important to build case studies and testimonials into your sales process – so that your sales team can pass over satisfied customers to your marketing team.

Word of mouth and peer-to-peer networks are also more valuable to these later cohorts. Encourage and share user-generated social media content on a regular basis.

Putting It All Together

Let’s put all this together into a nice, usable table:

Influencing FactorBest Content Type
Relative AdvantageBlogging, white paper, ebook, long-form content, infographic, social media, video, webinars, checklists
Compatibility
ComplexityProduct guide/how-to guides, comparison sheet, product demos, video tutorials, technical support
TrialabilityTrials / freemium versions, money-back guarantee, onboarding support
ObservabilityWhite paper, customer success story, case study, testimonial, social media (user-generated content)

Industry-specific S-curves

How quickly an innovation spreads across different segments and how many people adopt it varies widely across industries and populations. It often follows an s-shaped curve, sometimes only reaching peak saturation after decades.

Due to gradual market maturation, it’s imperative to know which of the five user segments you’re marketing to. By applying the following 20:60:20 rule, you will know which segment you are targeting next, so you can adjust your marketing strategy.

Percentage of population that have already adopted the innovation:
20% [Innovators + Early Adopters] : 60% [Early Majority + Late Majority] : 20% [Laggards]

In subsequent blogs, we’ll dive into the state and performance of several specific industries (our areas of expertise):

  • Residential Solar Energy (coming soon)
  • Commercial Solar Energy (coming soon)
  • Energy Efficiency (coming soon)

Conclusion

By understanding which customer segments you are addressing, and ensuring your content marketing communicates your perceived advantage, compatibility with customer needs and values, ease of use and observable results, the more people you can persuade to adopt your product, service or idea.