5.2 Meet the Quintiles
Everett Rogers was born in the rural farming village of Carroll, Iowa, in 1931. His background was very simple, and he had no intention of going on to college until one of his teachers drove him to Ames, Iowa, to visit the campus of Iowa State University. You could say he was a laggard, dragged kicking and screaming into his career by an innovator. After returning from a two-year tour of duty during the Korean War, Rogers earned a Ph.D. in sociology and statistics and published more than 500 articles and 30 books. In his groundbreaking book, Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers defined five different personality types (distributed by population in a natural bell curve), each of which has a different level of acceptance of new ideas:
1. Innovators, who comprise two and a half percent of the population, venture out on a limb, like Frasier Crane. Homer Simpson’s son, Bart, has the spirit to be an innovator, but not the intelligence, while his daughter Lisa has the intelligence but not the spirit. Innovators are smart, well educated, well connected, and in the know. They seek status from unfamiliar totems, and they love it when people say, “Hey, what’s that?” When they strike out in a new direction, they gather data from sources outside their own peer group to support their decision. They are most interested in a product when it is first introduced.
2. Early adopters, also called “Gatekeepers,” are leaders in their own right. They’re also well educated, but are more concerned with their peer status than are innovators. Their tribes look up to them; so early adopters bring a lot of people on board when they endorse a new concept or behavior. They are more concerned with and value functionality than with sheer novelty. They are heavy online shoppers and make up 13.5 percent of the population. They are most interested in a product when it is growing in popularity.
3. The early majority comprises 34 percent of the population. They’re a very purposeful bunch who take their time warming up to something, but they also have a lot of casual social connections and can exert a fair amount of pull themselves. They’re people like Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine on TV’s Seinfeld. They shop at Target more for value than price alone, and are most interested in proven products.
4. The late majority, also comprising 34 percent of the population, are skeptical of change and protective of tradition. In this group class distinctions and markedly different attitudes show up. Most are in the lower socioeconomic rungs in status. Marge Simpson is a member of the late majority that shop at Wal-Mart for everyday low prices. They are most interested in products that will grant the most tribal approval for the least money.
5. Laggards represent 16 percent of the population and, being risk-averse, are the last to get on board regarding a new idea or product. Homer Simpson is a laggard, as demonstrated by his limited influence and strong need for peer confirmation (“Bart, there is nothing more important than being popular,” he said). Laggards get most of their information from friends and neighbors and make few decisions about adopting anything new without the approval of their peers and core tribes. They distrust the media almost entirely, and are generally suspicious of external sources.
It’s easy to apply these labels to entire groups of people, or to stamp an individual with one identifier. The truth is, people take on different acceptance behaviors based on the role they play within their tribe. Someone who loves imported beers would probably be an innovative taster in a beer tribe, or amongst his beer-drinking peers in the various tribes with which he’s associated. Concurrently, that same person could be a laggard within those same tribes when it comes to fashion or home décor.
According to Rogers’ diffusion model, people go through five stages (learn, commit, use, test, accept) when adopting a new idea, whether they are innovators or not. First, they learn about the innovation and try to understand it. If they’re convinced of its efficacy, they make an internal commitment to the new idea. Then they’ll actually use it (taste it, wear it, or repeat it). They’ll test it out to see if the innovation works in practice. If it works, they’ll accept it. If it doesn’t work, they’ll reject it. The more people who accept an innovation, the more that innovation can potentially scale and gain currency within a culture.