In praise of the ‘Diffusion of Innovation’

Another in our occasional series of blogs in which we will revisit some of the articles that we have found most useful over the years … these are the articles that can always be found on desks in the Decision Architects office. This week we are looking at Everett Rogers’ 1962 work on Diffusion of Innovations (and yes, it’s a book not an article).

“This model provides an intuitively simple lens through which we can look at how consumers approach any sort of NPD – it is not without its critics but it is a useful short-hand which we often apply to (say) a segmentation framework to talk to the propensity of different segments to try or adopt a new product or service …. be that a new delivery format for hot drinks, a new insurance concept or some form of health tech” James Larkin, Decision Architects

The foundations of this now ubiquitous framework are interesting. Rogers’ 1962 book was based on work he had done some years earlier at Iowa State University with Joe Bohlen and George Beal. Their ‘diffusion model’ was focused solely on agricultural markets and tracked farmers purchase of seed corn. It was Iowa, and Rogers was professor of rural sociology!

The diffusion model’s signature bell curve identified

Innovators:             Owned larger farms, were more educated and prosperous and were more open to risk

Early Adopters:      Younger and although more educated were less prosperous but tended to be community leaders

Early Majority:       More conservative but still open to new ideas – active in their community and someone who could influence others

Late Majority:        Older, conservative, less educated and less socially active

Laggards:               Oldest, least educated, very conservative. Owned small farms with little capital

Between 1957 and 1962 Rogers’ expanded the model to describe how new technology or new ideas (not just seed corn) spread across society, but whilst Rogers initial work assumed that technology adoption would spread relatively organically across a population in practice there are barriers that can derail mainstream adoption before it has begun. The expansion to this frame discussed in Geoffrey More’s 1991 book ‘Crossing the Chasm’ highlighted a critical barrier to widespread adoption. This Chasm exists between the early adopter and early majority phases of the framework and to successfully navigate requires an understanding of the personality types that form the 5 fundamental building blocks of the model.

Innovators are happy to take a risk and try out products and services that may be untested or ‘buggy’. They look at the potential, do not expect things to be perfect and are happy to work with companies to improve initial offerings, a fertile testing ground for new technology. Early adopters in contrast are more tactical in their adoption. They want to be at the forefront of new technology but will have conducted their own research to evaluate the likelihood that the product will offer them tangible value. They are also more fickle, and are more likely to leave a product or service that is not living up to what was promised creating a potential void between them and the early majority.

Once we start to look at the early majority and beyond there is marked shift towards using something that ‘just works’. They are less interested in something new or shiny but, as the Ronseal advert would put it, something that ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’.

Seth Godin put it well in his 2019 blog when he said:

“Moore’s Crossing the Chasm helped marketers see that while innovation was the tool to reach the small group of early adopters and opinion leaders, it was insufficient to reach the masses. Because the masses don’t want something that’s new, they want something that works, something that others are using, something that actually solves their productivity and community problems.”

At its basic level the innovation adoption curve is a model that can be used to critically assess the appetite to adopt something new within a particular audience (be that segment, cohort or among a more general population). This provides us with a crucial framework element addressing the ‘where to play’ question … which we talk about so often with our clients and to enable the prioritisation of resources where they will have the biggest impact on growth and revenue

To go beyond the innovator and early adoption phases, products and services must deliver on their early promise, be built around customer needs improving on what went before. Getting there first can be a huge commercial advantage but failing to understand your audience and adapt accordingly can be the difference between wide-scale adoption and, at best, obscure appeal.

 

Why ‘new normal’ will look a lot like ‘old normal’

Since March my mailbox has been inundated with new surveys, trackers, consumer trend evaluations, and ‘thought pieces’ on the ‘new normal’. The world we live in from this point on will look nothing like the world we have known … so says their collected wisdom! If one was a cynic, one might argue that sowing doubt and uncertainty about the future reinforces the need to spend budget on consumer insight at a time when client businesses are looking to conserve cash and agencies are feeling the pinch – and this is my business as well, so I am not going to argue with the importance of maintaining  ‘sensors in the ground’!

But if you believe all that you read we are facing a foreign landscape with consumer behaviour turned on its head! But with some trepidation … can I be the small voice in the crowd that says actually I believe that the future is going to look much more like the past than many would have us think.

Now I will caveat that with the future when viewed from the pre-Covid world was going to look different (that’s just a truism) … the migration from the high street to the virtual street perhaps being the most notable trend – and the pandemic has moved this process on (if for no other reason than such a precipitous fall in revenue would be difficult for any business to cope with especially those with a poor online presence).

Perceived wisdom is that the pandemic moved digital migration forward 5 years … as people have been forced to shop online, socialise with friends and family members online, to bank online, see their doctor online etc. And some of these behaviours are here to stay as sub-optimal customer experiences in a pre-pandemic world can now be seen as such by a wider group of consumers – who really wants to queue for 20 minutes in a bank branch or sit next to (other) sick people in a doctor’s waiting room. OK, some people will, but broadly speaking the pandemic has shown those of us who are not innovators and early adopters a better way in some areas.

However, the ‘new normal’ is not actually ‘normal’ and will meet the headwinds of behavioural inertia or the tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. The majority of us will go back to an office, and probably 5 days a week. We will start shopping in stores again – because we like physical (as opposed to virtual) shopping, and so the home will become less of (not more of)  “a multi-functional hub, a place where people live, work, learn, shop, and play” (‘Re-imagining marketing in the next normal’ McKinsey, July 2020). We will want to travel again as soon as possible – the ‘staycation’ was fine, but we won’t want to make a habit of it, and our new found sense of ‘community’ will wane when the pressures and time requirements of everyday life kick back in.

I am not saying that there won’t be any change and I am not just sticking my head in the sand and hoping the current crisis would just go away. But consumer behaviour is akin to an elastic band … Covid-19 has pulled it in all sorts of different directions, but fundamentally it wants to ‘ping back’. When we have a few years post pandemic perspective, I suspect covid-19 will be seen to have caused a mild bump in the overall evolution of consumer behaviour … there won’t be a ‘new normal’ that looks very different from the ‘old normal’.

Katy Milkman – a behavioural scientist at Wharton was reported in The Atlantic as saying that new habits are more likely to stick if they are accompanied by “repeated rewards”. So if the threat of the virus is neutralised the average person will go back to a routine and at the moment the pandemic looms large because its our everything. While there will be some behavioural stickiness – its easy to overestimate the degree to which future actions will be shaped by current circumstances.

 

 

In praise of ‘Marketing Myopia’

In this occasional series of blogs we will revisit some of the articles that we have found most useful over the years … these are the articles that can always be found on desks in the Decision Architects office. The first of these is Marketing Myopia, published in the Harvard Business Review in 1960, chosen by Adam Riley.

“I love this article … it talks to the ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’ calculations that we have at the heart of our work … and I reference it time and time again. And when we use examples of obsolescence … Kodak, Nokia, Blackberry etc etc. you can see in their downfall a failure to heed the lessons of Marketing Myopia. Levitt was one of the giants of our trade”

In 1960 Theodore Levitt … economist, Harvard Business School professor and editor of the Harvard Business Review, published ‘Marketing Myopia’ and laid the foundations for what we have come to know as the modern marketing approach. Levitt, one of the architects of our profession, popularized phrases such as globalization and corporate purpose (rather than merely making money, it is to create and keep a customer). The core tenet of his ‘Marketing Myopia’ article is still at the heart of any good marketing planning process or submission. In this article Levitt asked the simple but profound question … “what business are you in?”

He famously gave us the ‘buggy whips’ illustration…

“If a buggy whip manufacturer defined its business as the “transportation starter business”, they might have been able to make the creative leap necessary to move into the automobile business when technological change demanded it”.

Levitt argued that most organisations have a vision of their market that is too limited – constricted by a very a narrow understanding of what business they are in. He challenged businesses to re-examine their vision and objectives; and this call to redefine markets from a wider perspective resonated because it was practical and pragmatic. Organisations found that they had been missing opportunities to evolve which were plain to see once they adopted the wider view.

Markets are complex systems. The ability to successfully define, and to some extent ‘shape’, the market you compete in today – and will compete in tomorrow –  is the foundation of good marketing. It is critical first step to maximizing business opportunities and identifying those competitive threats that may imperil the long term prospects of the business – or change the rules of the game to make its products or services irrelevant.

Senior management must ask, and marketers must be able to answer, the question … as a business, ‘where should we play’? This means defining the market in which we will compete – and being able to give size, scope, growth rates, competitive landscape, key drivers and barriers to success within it, as well as an appreciation of customers needs today – which are being fulfilled -and those unmet needs which may shape the definition of the market tomorrow. Market definition is not the same as ‘segmentation’ – but it is a necessary pre-cursor

When identifying ‘where to play’, marketers must address how to redefine our market to create a larger opportunity, or one which we are better positioned than the competition to take advantage of? How could our competitors reshape the market to their advantage and what impact would this have on us? And how will external trends – be they political, technological, social, economic etc. – reshape the market and affect our success? Many marketing questions then flow from this market definition – what attractive customer segments exist, how do we develop and deploy our brands against attractive market opportunities, what capabilities do we have today that give us competitive advantage, and what capabilities will we need tomorrow to sustain this.

At the time of his death in 2006, Levitt (alongside Peter Drucker) was the most published author in the history of the Harvard Business Review, and in a interview he gave about his published work, he said  “In the last 20 years, I’ve never published anything without at least five serious rewrites. I’ve got deep rewrites up to 12. It’s not to change the substance so much; it’s to change the pace, the sound, the sense of making progress – even the physical appearance of it. Why should you make customers go through the torture chamber? I want them to say, ‘Aha!’

Inter-Generational Wealth – an example of ‘Where to Play’ & ‘How to Win’?

Inter-Generational Wealth – an example of ‘Where to Play’ & ‘How to Win’?

“The brown? Or the pink?” According to a recent FT article[1] it’s one of the first questions that digital interface designer InvestCloud asks wealth managers when discussing the two extremes of the website ‘look’ it provides.

The article goes on to explain that ‘brown’ features very traditional imagery while ‘pink’ is more contemporary, or at least …less serious with cartoon rockets etc. Brown is for those wealth managers whose client base is more baby boomer, while pink is designed to appeal to millennials.

While the language of baby boomers and millennials is easy short-hand, brown vs pink reflects choices … there’s a lot more to it than just a colour palette – the answer to the ‘brown vs pink’ question should be the culmination of a ‘strategy conversation’ … covering the key questions: ‘where to play’, ‘how to win’ and ‘how to configure (to win)’. These are the three pillars of an effective growth strategy.

Companies that are serious about growth are serious about marketing – putting the customer at the centre of everything they do BUT in a world of multiplying customer touch points and rapidly changing customer behaviours … becoming, and staying, customer focused is increasingly difficult to do.

In financial services different individuals will attach different weights to varying core human emotional drives, and these drives influence how people think about their wealth, financial freedom and financial literacy – and hence can form the basis of a financial services segmentation (and contribute to the ‘where to play’, ‘how to win’ and ‘how to configure’ answers). The three constructs that drive financial decision-making, attitudes and behaviour are:

Perspective: how people view and connect with the world – whether they have a more optimistic/worry-free, as opposed to a more pessimistic/more anxious, view of the world, including their view on responding to constant change.

Intent: where an individual is in terms of the challenges and goals they set. It embraces the congruence they are trying to achieve and the creative expression they want in their lives, including the need to support, care for and contribute to others.

Command: confidence, control and competence, whether people see themselves as being driven by events or able to manage their lives and contribute to others.

We then identify segments based on perspective, intend and command which inform our understanding of how client expectations differ, what different client experiences are various segments looking for, how their investment objectives differ, how they wish to receive and process information etc. etc.

Why is this important? Well the world that wealth managers have known is changing. Research from financial services journal ‘Investment News’ (July 13, 2015) indicated that $30tn is expected to pass from baby boomers to Generation X and on to millennials – “customer segments that many investment advisors do not understand because they don’t know how to connect with their clients’ children . . . who may be technology-savvy and expect a very different service experience than their parents did”[2]

Customer segmentation helps companies use finite assets to “over-invest” in high value customers whose needs align with their capabilities … each customer segment represents a different opportunity, has a unique set of needs and requires a different value proposition that resonates

‘Where to play’ throws up questions for wealth managers to address, such as

  • What market opportunities exist or can be created that are both attractive and achievable?
  • Which segments of customers should we focus resources on – today and tomorrow?
  • What type and amount of market activity resides in each segment?
  • What is our portfolio of business and the relative weight if investment?

‘Where to play’ sets a clear and structured strategic framework – to identify, evaluate and focus on the right market opportunities.

Once we have a view of the landscape and can identify the value generating opportunities within it, we can ask the ‘how to win’ questions.

  • What should the company do for each set of customers?
  • What do individual segments do (need, want or believe) and why?
  • What is the product offer to target the attractive opportunities?
  • How should we present that product offer in terms of a client experience?
  • Through what means or channels, and with what message (brown or pink)?

And finally how do we configure our internal systems and processes to deliver the value generating offer and experience? ‘How to configure’ may suggest transformation of our channel or go-to-market strategy, product or process innovation, business model innovation or a change in our marketing communications systems.

Advisors unable to prove they are effective at establishing relationships with clients’ children and serving the next generation will find their client base inevitably erodes and as a result their business value falls. This is why – where to play, how to win and how to configure are such important strategic questions.

“InvestCloud says brown may still be the right choice for traditional wealth managers, but it argues that it is towards the pink end of the spectrum that more need to move — in order to present a different persona to a different generation of investors”

But importantly you can’t run 2 personas in parallel without causing dissonance – i.e. confusion in the mind of the client as to exactly what you stand for. Strategy is about making these choices – neatly summed up as ‘pink’ or ‘brown’

[1] http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20150713/FEATURE/150719999/the-great-wealth-transfer-is-coming-putting-advisers-at-risk

[2] https://www.ft.com/content/48eeceb4-538f-11e8-84f4-43d65af59d43