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James McQuivey has been tracking consumer behavior for nearly two decades at Forrester Research, predicting how fast new tech products would come and go based on consumer surveys now totaling around 1.5 million responses.
Five years ago, he started noticing something strange: People suddenly seemed more willing to try new products than ever. And when those products got to market, people tried them even more eagerly than the surveys suggested they would. E-readers and iPads proved to be the real harbingers of these trends, but it didn't stop there.
"It's turning out to be true on a continuous basis," Mr. McQuivey said. "People are showing an awareness of, and interest in -- then actually acting on the impulse to try -- more products and apps, even expensive ones." The phenomenon, which he dubs hyper-adoption, and its ramifications for marketers, is the subject of a talk he's set to give April 5 at the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York City.
While this new consumer willingness to try things -- what marketers might dub lower barriers to trial -- seemingly makes it the best of times for the industry, it's also in some ways the worst of times.
"The dark side of hyper-adoption is hyper-abandonment," he said. People may be more willing to try products or services, but they're also more willing to give up their old ones in search of something new. And it's not just limited to tech. The phenomenon extends to such far-flung categories as peer-to-peer lending, beer, cosmetics, razor retail models or food. The reason, he believes, is that people have had a lot more experience trying new things in recent years, generally with good results.
Mr. McQuivey, whose doctoral studies were in anthropology, neuroscience and psychology, compares the long uptake curve for salsa in the 1980s and '90s to such trendy "superfoods" as quinoa and kale -- which came, and arguably went, much faster in this millennium. "Maybe you get people to try kale, but then they abandon it," he said. "They still want to meet their needs. But they want to meet them in another novel way."
Whether that makes brands more or less important is open to debate. But the trend clearly makes it more important for brands to anticipate their consumers' needs and find new ways of meeting them, before someone else does.
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"I can't sit back and think of my product launches and campaigns as periodic entreaties," Mr. McQuivey said. "I need to continuously connect with people as part of this digital life they're leading. These digital devices are perfect for that. They collect data. They create new touchpoints and new opportunities to extend your brand. So if you're Under Armour and you want to create a fitness tracker, you can."
Another downside: What once might have been an unquestionable success is now an arguable failure. Take the Apple Watch. "Even after people swore up and down it was a failure, they still sold about 10 million of them the first nine months," he said. "Only one other Apple product in history has sold 10 million in nine months, and that was the iPad, which went on to be this amazing force. I'm not saying the Apple Watch is going to go on and sell another 50 million like the iPad. But just the fact that we can look at something like that and call it a failure just shows how accustomed we are to hyper-adoption."
Editor's note: Hear more from James McQuivey in person during the Ad Age Digital Conference, April 5-6 in New York City. Details here.