Gina Gutierrez | Brand Strategy

Last week I attended a consumer electronics speaker series hosted by Shasta Ventures and Hub Strategy + Communications. During the Q&A, a woman stood up from her chair and directed the last question of the night at the panel: how and when do you shift marketing efforts from early adopters to a greater mass market?

This question reveals an interesting and prevailing belief in Silicon Valley. Start-ups view the Bay Area (and maybe New York and Seattle) as a wellspring of early adopters. Read: people who eagerly scan technology blogs for the latest and greatest software releases and hardware launches.

In many ways, this belief is grounded in truth. The techno hubs of the world are full of passionate, intrepid tech buyers willing to make riskier purchases. They don’t need lengthy consumer reviews to buoy their decision to click “Buy Now,” nor are they put off by a waitlist or pre-order form. These are the people that catapult fledgling companies into popular awareness, evangelize ideas and legitimize new categories.

So why are early adopters a myth? Because for the most part, they are one-dimensional portraits. The truth is, if a start-up builds it, they may not come. Even early adopters.

Early adopters also need a good reason to buy into an idea. From a brand perspective, we need to knock down the invisible wall in peoples’ minds between early adopters and the mass market. Early adopters are more than young to middle-aged men sitting in front of Apple products. Their reason for existence is not just to buy more, buy everything, buy the latest. Early adopters are people, just as all consumers are people. They have families and foibles. They lead busy lives. They care about what their peers, husbands and girlfriends think of them.

While they may be more willing to give your company some slack when they experience a bug, they don’t buy products just because they are forward-thinking. They buy forward-thinking products from the companies that paint a narrative around why the product is something they should want as a part of their lives.

My answer to this woman’s question would be this: establish the reason your company exists. Find a position that makes you different. Create a story which people can believe in and connect to. And stick with it throughout your marketing program. Chances are, a compelling brand will mean as much to an early adopter as a homemaker in the suburbs.