Net.Working: A new approach to tech marketing

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Anyone who's spent any time in the technology marketing game knows the significance of the term "early adopter." This most memorable phrase from Geoffrey Moore's theory of how technology products are accepted by consumers describes that first crucial market segment that must be won over before you can conquer the masses.

For virtually all of this decade, Mr. Moore's famous product life-cycle defined marketing strategy for high-tech products.

Now it's coming under challenge from Forrester Research, which over the past six months has been generating reports trying to identify a broader, more descriptive set of technology marketing segments. Last December, the research firm asked flat out: "What's wrong with technology marketing?" and answered, essentially, that traditional segmentation doesn't really fit vendor needs.

Referring to Mr. Moore's "early adopter" model, Forrester analysts argue that different technologies appeal to different types of people, so that, in fact, there is no single set of early adopters.

"The 'early technology adopter' segment is a myth," said the company in December in a report titled "Why Consumers Buy," adding, "The first buyers of satellite TV won't be the first people on the block to do home banking."

It's an interesting model that Forrester is touting in its ongoing series of reports on "People and Technology." Instead of differentiating segments solely by how fast they accept technological change, Forrester is pushing a "Technographic" breakdown of 12 targeted markets, divided by factors such as income, attitude toward technology and primary technology motivation.

The subdivisions are too complex to fully detail here, but they include names like "fast forwards," "mouse potatoes" and "cyber-snobs" for the technology optimists, and "handshakers," "media junkies" and "country clubbers" for the pessimists.

Right away, I will tell you these names are too cute and indistinguishable for me. None of them has the powerful iconic appeal of a phrase like "early adopter."

Behind the names, though, are some valuable concepts. The dividing of groups by their technology goals -- family-driven, entertainment-oriented, career-focused -- does have strong implications for marketers. For example, based on its analysis, Forrester argues that media convergence remains a pipe dream, and that marketers who try to satisfy both TV fans and computer addicts are doomed to fail. For that reason, Forrester says, Philips' CD-I was mismatched to its audience, as was Kodak's PhotoCD player.

But there are opportunities as well: The affluent, tech-savvy and family-oriented segment of 27 million "neo-hearthminders" are the least-served and the most optimistic market.

And there's occasional practical advice here, too: "E-commerce sites should focus on convenience and price." That sounds obvious, but cut-rate pricing hasn't been the driving force so far on most commerce sites. Forrester's analysis says if you want to drive the vast family-oriented segment to the Web, make the Internet the cheapest place to shop.

As I say, interesting stuff. The idea of the early adopter had great resonance in the early stages of the high-tech revolution (and has been greatly advanced since then by Mr. Moore), but Forrester's model offers marketers creative new ways to think about strategy.

David Klein is associate publisher-editor of the Ad Age Group.

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