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!’

An interesting segmentation that goes beyond elephants and donkeys – lessons from the US electorate

An interesting new report looking at the US political landscape was published this week (see the end of this article).
Why interesting? It’s a good example of a nice-looking segmentation – examining American public opinion through the lens of seven population segments. The report’s authors describe these segments as “America’s hidden tribes” – hidden because they have shared beliefs, values, and identities that shape the way they see the world, rather than visible external traits such as age, race or gender. By avoiding the use of demographic information or other observables – the authors contend – segments go beyond conventional categories and identify people’s most basic psychological differences.

The tribes identified are:

  • Progressive Activists: highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: highly engaged, uncompromising, patriotic.

“Essex man” was an example of a type of median voter that explained the electoral success of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s. The closely related “Mondeo man” was identified as the sort of voter the Labour Party needed to attract to win the election in 1997

Now there’s nothing new about political segmentation – whenever an election looms, someone produces a segmentation of the political landscape, and the media get over excited. In the UK this has famously resulted in Essex man, Mondeo man, Worcester Woman etc. All of these shed interesting insight on a phenomenon BUT, as with commercial segmentation, there is usually practical limitation on their application.

This latest US report cites its ultimate aim as “identifying the most effective interventions that can be applied on the ground to counter division and help build a renewed and more expansive sense of American national identity”. But how are these interventions supposed to happen? How do you intervene with the ‘Passive Liberal Tribe’? Put simply, how do you find them?

We’ve discussed before how the dissatisfaction with the outcomes of segmentation has risen, as the mix of effective marketing levers that an organisation has at its disposal has proliferated. The rise of direct-to-consumer, and the increasing importance of targeted communication and the use of databases has mean that the ability easily identify a segment (rather than relying on the customer to self-select) has become a crucial success factor.

The inability to effectively ‘target’ segments is at the crux of much of the dissatisfaction with segmentation. I have no doubt that this work on ‘tribes’ includes a complex algorithm to determine segment membership but these are difficult to action as the criteria for segment membership are complex and often difficult to replicate. How do you find the segments in the real world? While it is possible to profile these clusters after they have been created, as they have done with the ‘tribes’, often the results are less than clear cut.

This is less of an issue when you are using ‘above the line’ communications to communicate a political (or commercial) position, but increasingly organisations want to target their communication activity, undertake ‘direct-to-consumer’ advertising (for example) and locate these segments in their CRM database. An actionable segmentation allows us to better address strategic ‘where to play’ questions i.e. which voters (or customers) to focus effort on, their relative priority, and the opportunity they represent … as well as tactical ‘how to win’ questions i.e. what activities or messages are most likely to achieve our objectives in priority segments.

For those of us who don’t get to vote in US elections, all of this can be something of a spectator sport – but if you have a professional interest in segmentation and marketing frameworks – it raises interesting questions. While the ‘tribes’ segmentation is intrinsically interesting and insightful – too often in the commercial world we find that this type of analytical methodology limits the ability to identify “the most effective interventions that can be applied”.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a70a7c3010027736a22740f/t/5bbcea6b7817f7bf7342b718/1539107467397/hidden_tribes_report-2.pdf

‘Segments of One’ – myth or reality?

‘Segments of One’ – myth or reality?

How many segments is too many? At some point we always have this conversation. Clients usually find 4 too few and 12 too many (leave aside that it’s not about how many but rather how you prioritise). So the spectre of ‘segments of one’ leaves us scratching our heads – an existential crisis for those of us who get paid to package the market up into somewhere between 4 and 12 homogenous groups; and paralysing for clients who now have (pick a big number) a million segments of one. But is it? And what does ‘segments of one’ actually mean?

In trying to get our collective heads around ‘segments of one’ we keep coming back to the difference between segmentation and profiling – traditionally profiling leverages a mass of data to add flesh to the bones of a segmentation – the segmentation has distilled the complexity inherent in all markets down to something manageable. But, so the argument goes, the processing power of IT, and the ability for brands to now get much closer to their customers etc. etc. makes the segmentation step ‘redundant’ as we no longer need to distil complexity, but rather embrace it. This is the hyperpersonalization argument.

In a piece for ‘Think with Google’ Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Keith Weed, cited the mobile phone as the driving force behind an empowered consumer – who could disagree –  and that its now “driving a hyper segmentation revolution”, and Unilever to “a future where we will build brands in segments of one”.

So let’s think about this in terms of a company that makes things. If my business is making ‘things’ at scale – physical mass customisation or hyperpersonalization is very difficult to do. Scale is important – if I make high spec bicycles, I could customise these to individual taste, but I might make 10, 100, 1000, 5000 a year. What if I make 20million units of something? Whether we are trying to develop strategy or drive something like NPD – we still need to distil complexity into something manageable and useful. Of course Keith Weed isn’t suggesting (I think) that using hyper segmentation Unilever is going down a mass customisation route.

The reality is that we will still have between 4 and 12 segments to allow us to pragmatically manage the complexity and develop our product portfolio and core brand foundations BUT within those segments – data and the ability to now have a one-to-one dialogue with consumers will develop a unique brand experience. Not necessarily one that the brand owner controls but still we can see this one to one relationship as ‘segments of one’. So for a standardised mass market product we may develop individualised brand conversations but we are limited by the nature of the product and the way we go to market. Organisations like Unilever are (it would seem – I have no direct knowledge) looking to developed one-to-one relationships with their consumers – off the back of a mass market product offer. Is this based on profiling within an existing segmentation frame – sort of tactical hyper segmentation within a segmentation? So what is the ‘segment of one’? It is a question of both capability and practicality.

But what about those organisations whose products are intangible …. say Netflix or many financial services companies … companies that can be characterised as having a lot of data on each individual customer and the ability to reconfigure their product offer in an (effectively) infinite number of ways. So they can ‘just’ profile their customer and offer suitable, customised packages (enabled by technology) – they don’t need the intervening step of a consolidating segmentation. Right? Probably not. We are getting much better at trawling data for attitudinal and behavioural cues, and using this knowledge to inform marcoms and other interactions but, to inform strategy, I will bet these organisations are still using some kind of consolidating framework (anyone from NetFlix, please feel free to set me right). Managing complexity is expensive. To embrace complexity to the extent that segments of one would dictate, means redefining what we mean by ‘strategy’. If traditionally strategy has equated to ‘making choices’ – in this new world, the choices are no longer made by the organisation, but rather by the customer. This also assumes that the organisation is less resource constrained – presumably this is a function of technology.

Even as we get better at mining the increasing amounts of data available to us, there is still a long way to go in terms of maximising the value and utility to the customer of this kind of profiling. NetFlix’s ‘Top Picks For …’ seems to me to be little better than random choice – based on watching an episode of 70’s British sitcom Porridge, the recommendation that I might like to watch Top Gear would seem a tenuous link (to me … and that’s the whole point).