If you’re planning the marketing for the launch of a new product or campaign, learn some lessons from the Diffusion of Innovation model.

So. You’re launching a new product or marketing campaign. You have already spent time and money on this and need the launch to be the start of recouping some of this investment. But… the launch is just the start of your journey. So many good products and good campaigns fail to take off or run out of money before they can take off.

Here’s a simple yet insightful model that I use to show my clients what to expect, where it can go wrong, and to start the conversation on how to make sure we get as much right as possible.


Hello, Diffusion of Innovation

The Diffusion of Innovation model (E.Rogers, 1962) helps us understand that selling to a mass market is not something that happens overnight. This means that you won’t start to make a profit immediately after launch.

Launch using Diffusion of Innovation Model

Image from: smartinsights.com


Let’s work through each stage of the Diffusion of Innovation model and see how it impacts your approach to marketing as you launch a product or campaign, and what you do after launch.


Innovators – the crucial first group

First, you have to convince the Innovators to take up your product or service.

This is a small but crucial group. It’s important to know who these, ‘Innovators’ are in your market place and ensure that your initial marketing appeals to them. Innovators like new. They are happy to take a punt on something. They can afford for it not to work (but don’t take this for granted) as they are risk-takers by nature so know some risks don’t pay off. In some markets, Innovators will pay a premium price to be ‘first’ – but not in all markets so do your research carefully.

Here are some questions to help you figure out who your innovators are:

  • who in your market place gets excited about trying new stuff?
  • who will trust your organisation enough to try something new?
  • do you know them already?

In SMBs (Small to Medium sized Businesses), your innovators might be a really engaged group of customers or champions in your network (you know, the people who like your business and always speak positively about it).

Once you have identified your Innovators, think about why they would buy this new product or service from you, then create your, ‘Launch Campaign’ to appeal to them.

At this stage your marketing should:
  • be very targeted at the Innovators in terms of where you put it and how you express it
  • be very closely monitored – consider daily or weekly depending on what you are doing, the people you have
  • be very responsive so you can adapt any element of your marketing quickly as you identify what does and doesn’t work.


Real example: have you ever seen the queues of people outside Apple Stores waiting from 5am in the morning to get their hands on the latest model? They’re the Innovators in that customer group! They like to be first, want to try it out, and enjoy the buzz of trying something new.


Early Adopters – getting there but not yet

Early Adopters give us a good indication of whether your product or campaign is going to be a success. Forming approximately 13.5% of your customers, this is a sizeable chunk of the client base.

These people are excited about ‘new’ but more cautious than the Innovators. They will ‘watch and wait’ to see what the Innovators think about your product or service – the Innovators can be quite influential here. However, a key mistake that organisations make is choosing the wrong type of innovators to focus on. Your Early Adopters have to respect and be able to relate to the Innovators.

Following a successful initial launch, you need to aim your marketing at the Early Adopters. They are the opinion leaders who the rest of the market will watch to see how they respond.

At this stage your marketing should:
  • provide evidence that other people have taken up your product / service and are happy with it
  • be closely monitored to see what is working and not working
  • still be reacting to what people are responding to and then adapting as you go along.

Real example: road biking has become hugely popular in the UK and certain groups have a lot of money to spend on it. The Early Adopters are the group that will wait until the Pros and the top semi Pros have got the new gear / bike… then they will purchase it. 




Before you get to the next group of people though, you have to ‘leap’ the chasm of failure. The leap from Innovators + Early Adopters to Early Majority can be huge. Some organisations never make it.

Some of the reasons for failing to get to the majority are:

  • running out of time / money, because you failed to realise how long it would take to get the Innovators + Early Adopters on board, so now don’t have the money to invest in the next phase of marketing
  • the product isn’t what most people want or can afford (e.g. only the geeks want it, the risk takers, the super rich) so it never takes off
  • the Early Majority reject the opinions of the Innovators + Early Adopters
  • a new product is developed which makes yours obsolete / out of date / old fashioned / not wanted
  • failure to adapt your Marketing Campaign to what would appeal to the Early Majority.


Early Majority – gaining traction!

As 34% of your customer base for this new service, the Early Majority is where you are making your money and finally seeing a profit. Success is on the horizon. By this point, you are way past launch.

The Early Majority like to think they’re ahead of the trend but want the reassurance of knowing that things are proven.

At this stage your marketing should:
  • convey some of the excitement of ‘newness’ but be tempered with lots of evidence and reassurance.
  • be backed up by data, as you know what is working and what isn’t working
  • have adjusted the marketing messages and creatives to suit this audience
  • be considering what marketing tactic you need to use to, ‘go bigger’.

You should now have a good marketing rhythm, as you can plan more and react less to what is working and not working. It’s a good place to be as a marketer as you know what works and what doesn’t work, so you can consolidate and push forward to achieve real growth.

Real example: GiffGaff launched as an online only product successfully using purely digital marketing to launch and establish themselves. But to ‘go bigger’ they had to change tactic. Read in Marketing Week  about what they did to get that crucial Early Majority on board (Note: article contains swear word and you need to subscribe for free to Marketing Week to be able to read it)


Late Majority

The risk here is that you go stale. This is a sizeable chunk of your market but do not take them for granted. This group are late-comers to your product or service but they still deserve a good one. They bring in a sizeable amount of your income for you – treat them with respect.

At this stage your marketing should:
  • be adapted again to really fit this group and give them a great experience – they are core to your success
  • be reinvigorated as you have lots of clients, proof you are great, great stories and testimonials to share
  • have something new but within expectations for your brand and market position.

This is the marketing of an established product or service. The trick here is to stay relevant for many years. I admire how department store John Lewis has used its, ‘Christmas Campaigns’ to ensure that every year their marketing makes a splash, reminds people about them, and reinvigorates previously active customers.



This group of people make up 16% of your customer base. The same amount as the Innovators + Early Adopters put together. However, the key problem with marketing to the Laggards is that by now, your product or service could be seen as, ‘old hat’ and lost its shininess – Laggards might expect a drop in price to reflect this

At this stage your marketing should:
  • be aimed at the Laggards but trying to retain your product or service’s value
  • be trying to reinvigorate your product or service – that’s right.

You need two marketing hats on here: campaigning to the Laggards while strategising how to reinvigorate your product or service. Why? Because what the Diffusion of Innovation model doesn’t show us is that products can be brought back from near death, repackaged, repurposed, relaunched and … start again at a point on the Diffusion of Innovation curve but with all the profit, knowledge and data behind it that you didn’t have at launch.

Like all models, Diffusion of Innovation is great to help us understand what might happen and to plan for it. For many of my clients it is a good way to get them thinking in a structured manner about their marketing for launch…and beyond.


Helpful blog posts: 

About the Author

Kara Stanford, KMS MarketingKara Stanford is a Strategic Marketing Consultant based in Hampshire, UK.

She helps SMBs systematically review and plan their marketing, so that they know their marketing plans will work.

Find out more about the services KMS Marketing offers to see if Kara can help your business.



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