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Every business starts with a solution to a problem. You either solve the problem for someone or provide a better solution to an already existing problem. And how do you know who is facing the problem? By defining the “target audience” and “segments”. You can only hope and want your target audience to be your early adopters and customers but sometimes, that’s a little far fetched.

Businesses are focused on customers. They are the ones whose problem you’re solving and the ones who will pay for the solution. But how do you know who are your customers?

Say, you have narrowed down your customers and know exactly who is facing this issue but who do you think will buy from you without a proof of concept or reviews? A lot of people won’t consider your solution unless you show them actual customers who benefited out of your solution. This concept is called “crossing the chasm”.

Customers in different phases of the product journey

Product/Technology Adoption Lifecycle early adopters
Product/Technology Adoption Lifecycle

All products go through different phases of their journey and customers are involved in each phase of the product journey. While you’re in the extreme left, the innovator, you need to reach the extreme right – the laggards, who use your solution only after they’ve seen everyone else do so. Of course, when you start off, your only customers would be your mom and probably a few friends. However, once you step out of your building and reach out to someone who actually has the problem, you’ll find your first customer – the early adopters. Once you acquire enough “early adopters”, you’ll be able to cross “the chasm” and reach the “early majority” block. The phenomenon continues till “laggards” who adopt your product only after they’ve been exposed to enough noise and buzz.

Types of adopters for new products:

Innovators

  • The youngest group of consumers
  • Most risk-taking
  • More educated than others
  • Usually, wealthier than other consumers
  • Access to other innovators and resources

Early Adopters

  • Progressive
  • Educated
  • Thought leaders; people value their opinions
  • Well connected in the community

Early Majority

  • Have a low-risk appetite
  • Usually better than average social status but not thought leaders
  • Average to above average education
  • Connected to early adopters

Late Majority

  • The older group of consumers
  • More skeptical about product adoption
  • Usually, lower social status and prosperity as compared to the other categories

Laggards

  • The oldest group of consumers
  • Usually, value traditional methods
  • Highly averse to change and risk
  • Rarely seek opinion outside their own social set

Why should you care about early adopters?

According to Steve Blank, an early adopter is someone who:

  • Has a problem
  • Is aware of her problem
  • Has been actively looking for a solution
  • Tried several solutions
  • Has or can acquire a budget

Often, we stop at point 1 even when we know the rest, which is an incorrect approach. If the person isn’t aware of the problem, you’d have a tough time explaining to her the problem and thereby, showing that you have a solution.

The fact that they have been actively looking for a solution proves the extent to which the problem annoys them and will help you differentiate between the people who are willing to do something about it rather than just sit and whine about their problem. And of course, if you’re acquiring customers, you would want them to pay, if not immediately, at least at some point.

Product marketers put in enough effort to identify this group when launching their product. Early adopters are the ones who will help you achieve the “product-market fit” because they’d be happy even at 80% efficiency. They also help you identify the growth channel for your business.

How many of you have read “The Tipping Point“? Does the term “Maven” ring a bell? Early adopters, also known as “Mavens” are the ones who translate your idea and product from a highly specialized form into a language the rest of the world can understand.

Every business has an important metric which determines its growth. It is often known as the “Northstar metric”. It is the KPI for growth. For example,

Facebook: # of monthly active users

WhatsApp: # of messages a user sends

Airbnb: # of bookings

While your business model will give you an idea about this KPI, the early adopters are the ones who will verify it. Identify their behavior through the AARR funnel (Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue) to find the one metric to focus on.

Why do they buy?

Since early adopters are actively looking for a solution, will they choose any solution that is available? Of course not. They have probably tried a varied number of solutions to their problem but if they were to spend money on one solution, there are certain factors they’d consider. Focus on these factors. What motivates them to make a purchase decision? Do they purchase a product because it looks better or because it is cheaper as compared to its competitors? Or did a friend refer them the product? Also, study the reasons they drop out. What makes them remove a product from their “consideration set”?

How do you actually get early adopters?

Communities

Slack, Reddit, web forums, etc are the perfect places to find early adopters and interact with them. Users on such communities are willing to try and discuss new ideas as well as are open to criticism and feedback. Of course, we wouldn’t ask you to sign up and start promoting right away! It is advisable to become a “trusted user” or a “power user”. By doing so, you gain credibility and trust, which you can then use to promote your products. You can also interact with other power users and convince them to use your product. These users, in turn, can further advocate your product.

E-commerce community on Reddit early adopters
E-commerce community on Reddit

Now you ask, “so how do I know which community to join?” Fair point! You just need to Google it! Just search for

“[target audience] Reddit”

“[target audience] slack channel”

“[target audience] community”

If you’re in e-commerce, you can join communities like Bigcommerce forum or e-commerce subreddit. If you’re in SaaS, you could always try communities like ProductHunt, AngelList, etc.

Bigcommerce community
Bigcommerce community

While finding these communities is easy, becoming a power user is harder. You need to continuously answer, solve and respond to others’ queries. Once you’ve attained the status of a power user, you can always promote your product. However, a more effective way is reaching out to other power users and asking for their opinions. It is all about building relationships, in the end.

Social networks

How can we mention communities and not talk about social media? Social media is all about networking. Again, you cannot shamelessly start promoting your product. You need to find groups and sub-groups in these networks.

You need to follow similar tactics with social media groups. First, you should always follow the rules of the group. Many groups discourage advertising. Stick to these rules. Second, be an active part of these groups. Talk to other users and document their pain points. It is only after you’ve provided value for a specific period of time that can you ask for something.

You can also follow certain “hashtags” on Instagram and Twitter to monitor content, conversations, and sentiment. You can start with one broad hashtag and then narrow it down. In doing so, you’d want to collect data about how users use these hashtags and in what context. Document them in a spreadsheet so that you can reach out to these users later!

For example, the hashtag “e-commerce marketing” on Instagram shows how visual and appealing content works best in this context.

#Ecommercemarketing on Instagram
#Ecommercemarketing on Instagram

Blogging

Yeah, we’re the ones asking you to blog! Surprising, eh? Well, jokes apart, blogging is a great way to create brand awareness and educate your customers. Say you’re heading for summer vacations and you need a little help deciding your outfits. Wouldn’t you just love it if someone offered a clothing guide? Precisely!

Just look at ModCloth’s blog. They know exactly who their buyer is and every single piece of content speaks to her. Have a look at their recent post where they talk about spring clothing. Not only is the piece timely but also directed to the persona.

ModCloth Blog
ModCloth Blog

Used Hubstaff? They acquired their first users by blogging which got them organic and social traffic. Here’s are a few tips for your blog:

  • Post informational and detailed content (1,500 words minimum) with visually appealing graphics.
  • Identify keywords you’d want to rank for, look at the top search results for them and then create better content.
  • Optimize your blog with headline, title tags, images, etc.
  • Answer relevant questions on Quora and Reddit and link them back to your site.

Apart from blogging on your own site, you can also blog on other popular sites. “Guest blogging” is a great way to get exposure on other platforms. You could try different sources but for bigger publishers, just google! They usually have dedicated guidelines for submitting articles.

Guest Blogging on BigCommerce
Guest Blogging on BigCommerce

Email

We could just go on and on about email marketing but we want to talk about the role of emails in acquiring early adopters. Got a t-shirt printed from RampTshirts? Well, they acquired their early set of customers by cold emailing them! How? By being relevant. Since cold emails come across as spammy, they went a step ahead to personalize each email and later, automated the process.

Ramp Tshirts
Ramp Tshirts

Of course, if you had a previously built email list, you’d be all sorted. However, you can also build a list from your LinkedIn network. Another way you can reach out to people is by simply searching for “head of [business]” and email them. However, it is best if you try to get an introduction via someone you know. Nothing works more than referrals.

Conferences/Meetups

We’ve talked about concierge MVP and how reaching out directly to consumers makes an impact. The point here is “in person conversation”. By choosing to speak at conferences and meetups, you not only create your brand awareness but also induce word of mouth marketing.

Identify your target audience and go where your audience goes. For example, if you want to target students, you’d primarily want to speak at school and college events. You could also consider events at bars and libraries as a secondary measure. Similarly, if you want to target other businesses, consider office and co-working spaces. You can also reach out to them at hotels and probably try your luck at airports!

Conclusion

Conserve your resources and efforts to focus on the most relevant audience when you’re launching your product. Early adopters are the ones who take your product from a dream to reality. Getting the “first 100 loyal customers” is the toughest part of customer acquisition for businesses.

You start with an idea about your ideal audience and by the end, you form a crystal clear picture of your perfect audience. You don’t necessarily have to go lengths to find these early adopters. It actually, starts with an honest assessment of what you’re offering. Then, it is just about reaching out to the ones who are facing the problem and are passionate about finding a solution.

What are the challenges you face while acquiring early adopters? Comment below or write to us at [email protected].

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