The best business growth today is about “farming” early adopters and brand advocates. As long as a product or service upholds its brand promise, early adopters will respect its value. Truly innovative products that require a strong and energized early adopter base will have an inherent excitement in their utility and even the mere knowledge that they exist. A minority of the population will seek out and risk purchasing unproven products simply to be “in on the secret” that such innovations exist. There is of course an intrinsic value in a scarce commodity as with all innovations that make those who possess it special in some way.
Acquiring early adopters and nurturing their relationship is an intentional and careful process. A relationship with those willing to risk their time and money on something new is tenuous at best. One significant break in the promise of a new brand, and early adopters will flee and be far more difficult to activate again.
The process of retaining and growing a base of evangelists for a brand requires five key elements:
1. A product or service must do as it claims with little exception.
This is not to state that new products should somehow be modest and “under promise and over deliver.” Staking a claim to innovation and proclaiming it loudly is one of the key elements in new product success. Truly innovative and new products the adage instead is simply, “promise and deliver” every single time.
2. Newer revisions of the product should focus mainly on improving and advancing the key innovation and selling points of the brand.
Early in the product innovation and introduction process, it is imperative that product managers and engineers focus strictly on improvements to the brand promise that inspired the early adopters. By doing so, advocates for the brand will become more and more confident in the product. This confidence directly correlates to the amount and sincerity of people’s willingness to recommend the product to others.
Confidence in the product will change how a consumer talks about it. There is a huge difference between “I’ve used XYZ product and I can say I like it” and, “this is the coolest XYZ product and anyone who doesn’t have it is behind the times.” The more confidence consumers have in a product the more likely they are to advocate for it in the way brand managers want it to be promoted.
3. Reward early adopters.
All people who run the risks of trying something new have a desire to be different and wish to be treated as such. Farming early adopters requires not just a strict adherence to promises made about a brand, it is also about retaining the advocates’ interest and personal attachment to the product. In other words, these rare and valuable consumers must be personally vested in the brand.
This personal attachment can and often does take the shape of rewards for not just using the product but also referring others. The more aggressive the reward, the more successful this part of the farming process.
4. Understand the boundaries of a brand advocate’s commitment to the brand.
Rewarding and strengthening the relationship with early adopters is extremely important to personalizing the relationship with them. Generating this level of commitment requires a solid understanding of the person buying; what prompted them to learn more about the product, what motivated them to buy, and what exactly are the boundaries of their expectations. The “wish list” of features for a product is second only to knowing the lowest level of expectations that can be met without losing that customer as an advocate for the brand. Respecting this boundary is imperative to success.
5. Avoid premature line extensions and brand expansions.
Stick to the plan for as long as possible while remaining significantly profitable. Creating offshoots of a product or attempting to move the product to a different category too early in the process will make early adopters feel neglected and taken for granted. For example, a person who loves a certain new snack may not necessarily see a fat free or “healthy” version as acceptable due to a sizable difference in taste. If the advocate for a brand has to qualify their support for a new product with “well, except for this . . .” a product manager will soon be able to kiss that free advertising away.
In our new social world where people have not just information but personalized recommendations from everyone they know about nearly every topic, early adopters and brand advocates are the greatest asset a company can possess. Acquiring these customers is only half the battle. Nurturing that relationship so that it grows over time is equally important. Only through careful attention to the key elements of building and respecting this relationship is success realized.