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Gronka The Sufferer
It'll Make Sense, I Promise
Do you ever catch teenagers on a blind date? If not, join the normal club. And if you do, how many of them skip dinner and a movie to get right to the good stuff: a romantic promenade through their local adoption agency after deciding that parenthood is right for them and the timing couldn’t be more perfect?
These ‘early-adopters’ do not exist; neither do the early-adopters we often discuss in marketing. The traditional early-adopter model suggests there exists a class of person willing to try products before they’re ready and before the market has exposed their every possible flaw.
This model suggests marketers seek out early-adopters when we launch our products but keep focus on our truest, broader audience of consumers—the ‘late-comers.’ I believe early-adoption theory is 99% bullshit, and here’s where I’m coming from.
Let’s presume we know Frank. And for whatever reason, be it a ‘fun quirk’ or as I prefer, a ‘personality disorder,’ Frank has a compulsion for acquiring things before others do—he has an addiction to novelty.
Frank buys a Bitcoin for a $1 in cash
Frank buys GameStop shares... in 2002
And Frank buys Beanie Embryos long before the children everywhere reject them in favor of their far more palatable sequel, Beanie Babies
Frank buys things before they’re cool—okay, how do we find him? We need to learn where Franks mingle so that we may target them with our limited ad budget. Remember, we’re launching a brand new product with no exposure in the marketplace; early-adopter theory suggests we aim every marketing dollar at these ravenous materialistic slimers.
However, we have no means to target our advertising at people with Frank’s fetishistic preference for new stuff; our demographic choices are best-guesses. With a stroke of luck, we discover a high-density of Franks in Tempe, Arizona. But after selling a widget to every Frank in the area, we’re still in heaps of trouble
A customer suffering from a pathological urge to ‘buy-in early’ teaches us nothing about our place in the market.
Does our product satisfy their desires? Their desire is to get things early, apparently.
Are we priced appropriately? Overpriced? Under-priced? Based on their personality, price poses no obstruction.
What triggered this customer to make a purchase? The fact that we released anything.
It’s clear that even if Frank exists, targeting Frank will at best earn us a quick buck and at worst, teach us little about the people we intend to serve.
Early Adopting is Fake; Early Suffering is Real
Before humanity invents solutions, it first invents problems. To have fire, we must first have an aversion to cold-ass food—and I’m sure we invented that complaint well over 100,000-years ago.
Picture Gronka sitting over a half-skinned squirrel. She has to carve out the squirrel’s guts with her teeth to get to its limited lean meat supply. After six agonizing, and frankly grotesque minutes, she spits out what remains of her masticated squirrel-friend and screams, “this f*$%ng sucks!”
Just then a lightning bolt strikes, igniting several small bush-fires. As she stares longingly into the flames, Gronka remembers the taught flesh of a burnt wildebeest, one discovered among many in a desert several moons ago. ”Perhaps the heat is what causes the wildebeest meat to gain such tenderness,” Gronka considers as she tugs at her armpit hair.
Gronka gathers a few embers and consolidates them into a small fire, then tosses her squirrel carcass in the center and cooks it 3-minutes per side—out the other end of this Master Class in prehistoric cooking comes a gloriously tender squirrel kabob. Dig in, Gronka.
Now, is she an early-adopter or an early-sufferer?
No one buys anything before they’re ready, they buy when they have no superior salient choice. An early-adopter is a person suffering from an acute problem, or desire, for which they have no available solution... until they discover your product. Presuming Gronka has a prehistoric carrot to chew on when that lightning strikes, her desire to attempt cooking over flame is significantly weaker in comparison to when she faces the untenable proposition of raw squirrel-feet.
Early-adopting is then a combination of early-suffering and ignorance of possible solutions. The novel Coronavirus vaccines are every bit as novel as the virus itself. En masse, a majority helping of humanity becomes ‘early-adopters’ when they inject what is effectively a first-run product right into their arms.
Do hundreds of millions of us suddenly become early adopters? No, we are early sufferers of a problem which had no salient solution... until Pfizer and Moderna created one. So what does this mean for our marketing going forward?
When we release new products, we must serve early-sufferers. Early-sufferers, and not new-addicts, are our true north stars. These people want our product for psychographic reasons, not for psychotic ones. Our responsibility is to find these individuals and provide them a novel solution to the condition which ails them—and yes, that may be a new desired state, rather than a problem with which they struggle.
Ditch the early-adopter mantra. There are no early-adopters, only people who are super jazzed about your ability to improve their lives.