Whenever a new technology appears, its earliest adopters are typically just a small fraction of potential users, according to the Diffusion of Innovations.
Popularized in the early ’60s by Everett Rogers, Diffusion of Innovation is a leading theory on how new products gain traction. Rogers, an American sociologist, sets out five key categories of adopters: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
As the theory goes, a tiny 2.5% sliver of the population are innovators, or the very first to test a new product. Then come the early adopters, whose buy-in is seen as a bellwether of widespread adoption. They account for only 13.5% of the population but hold outsized influence. All the rest are either early or late majorities (34% each), or laggards (16%—who may never try something new).
We’ve seen this pattern play out across industries, including publishing. Consider digital subscriptions: a handful of newspapers toyed with different models in the late ’90s, but it took years for a critical mass to build. Today, they’re a cornerstone of growth strategies in media—and many more segments, from tourism to personal fitness.
There are countless examples of new technology transforming industries and creating opportunities, so why aren’t there more trendsetting early adopters? In this blog post, we’ll answer that question and offer five reasons why you shouldn’t shy away from adopting new tech.
The barriers to early adoption
The two main barriers to early adoption are connected to each other. They relate to the known and the unknown—and how an organization navigates each.
Many companies are too married to legacy systems. Workflows are established. Performance is predictable. It’s the way the company has always operated, so why change?
But older systems also hinder collaboration, which is a crucial ingredient for digital transformation. 52% of senior executives cite legacy systems as a main obstacle to digitizing efforts, according to a report by the Harvard Business Review. Leaning into a legacy system leads to a vicious cycle.
Fear of the unknown
When will employees master a new technology? What will training cost? If it doesn’t work as expected, what then? Upgraded tech raises many questions for media companies, contributing to uncertainty. Even if leadership realizes a company’s performance could benefit from a tech overhaul, apprehension about unknowns is a headwind to innovation.
Why you should be an early adopter of new tech
Despite the challenges and uncertainty surrounding new tech, ignoring it is hardly risk-free. It’s easy to find examples of highly successful companies that have failed because they couldn’t—or simply weren’t willing to—engage with emerging tech.
Kodak is one such cautionary tale. The company literally invented the digital camera but doubled down on film, the product that it made its name with. Kodak declared bankruptcy in 2012, after 131 years in the photography business (and amid a digital-photography boom).
Broadly speaking, companies that drag their heels on using new tech limit their potential compared to those who take the leap. “There is a correlation between the early adoption of new technologies and better business outcomes,” notes another report from the Harvard Business Review.
Not convinced? Here are five reasons to become an early adopter:
1. Early adopters shape how a technology evolves. An early adopter understands that new technology may come with bugs and require troubleshooting. They see this as an opportunity. During the tech-rollout phase, early adopters get the chance to work with the proprietor to fine-tune the product. They can flag issues and make suggestions.
Once a tech solution is more widely adopted—like when the early and late majorities finally jump on board—it’s harder to get the same level of customer service, and some issues may be too deeply ingrained in the system to be changed. With many more users to respond to, the proprietor might not have the time or resources to respond to every single request.
2. Tech ROI is better early on. If a company invests in new tech earlier, there’s a longer timeframe for it to begin to pay for itself, according to a report by info-tech consultancy Cognizant. “Companies behind the curve are paying a large annual ‘Laggard Penalty’—the difference in both cost and revenue performance due to technology,” the report explains.
3. The early-adopter mentality is spreading (with or without you). More enterprises are easing into the early-adopter role. When looking specifically at major disruptive technologies like AI and 3D printing, almost two in three businesses say they’re taking on an “early-adopter” mindset. It’s going mainstream.
With more of your competitors stepping up to the plate with advanced tech, odds are one or more will hit upon something truly revolutionary—unless you do it first.
4. Early adoption boosts your brand. As one of the first to leverage a new technology, you gain unique insights and earn the authority to comment on a topic few others are experts in. It’s a chance to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry, raising your brand’s visibility, credibility, and influence.
5. Work’s changing nature favors early adopters. These are unprecedented times. The pandemic forced many media companies to rethink how they do business at every turn. New tech plays a huge role in this dynamic process, particularly with the rise of telecommuting and the tools required to make it all work.
What it all means for publishers
From wielding more influence to having the tools to respond to new challenges, the benefits of being an early adopter really boil down to one thing: a competitive advantage that a media company can hold on to. That is, if it builds the early-adopter mentality into its workplace culture.
Ultimately, publishers that have more experience experimenting with emerging technologies are less likely to be victims of disruption later, and if they do run into trouble they won’t panic—their teams are used to learning on their feet.