Scott A. Mogull
Texas State University
Highly innovative technical products, or those arising from the latest engineering (high-tech) and scientific (bio-tech) advancements are estimated to have a higher-than-average marketplace failure rate ranging from 40 to 90% (Gourville, 2005). Although a variety of reasons influence the marketplace success of innovative technical products, including the uniqueness and quality of the technology, a psychological element occurs when the prototypical developer (scientist, engineer, or entrepreneur) becomes entrenched with the features of the innovation and becomes disconnected with the actual needs and wants of the consumer (the audience).
Notably, scientists and engineers who develop technical products overestimate the value of their innovation as well as the likelihood and speed that consumers will adopt the technology (Gourville, 2005). Unlike general consumer goods, innovative technical products are more carefully evaluated by consumers and are characterized with a longer and more complex decision-making process, which is characterized by increased consumption of information that includes input from others as well as user experiential trials (Puska et al., 2018). Often underappreciated by innovators, most truly revolutionary products that define a new product category and enable truly novel capabilities—such as a DNA sequencer for automated DNA sequencing or industrial machine vision system for the automated analysis of physical objects—require a significant, long-term investment in the marketing efforts to educate and persuade potential consumers who have differing views of technology (Gourville, 2005).
In many technical companies, product developers lack an understanding of mainstream, non-technology focused consumers, which is necessary for commercial success and profitability of a technical product (Gourville, 2005; Moore, 2014; Potts, 2010; Rogers 2003). A market, or a group of actual or potential customers for a category of products or services, is commonly defined by consumers having a common set of needs or wants (Moore, 2014). By the common definition, a market would appear homogenous and consistent marketing strategy and message would appear to reach and attract all individuals within the market throughout the market lifetime of the product. However, consumers in a technology market exhibit additional psychological ties or resistance to innovation—thus making technical markets a composite of various audience segments that respond differently to the message content and reference only limited other voices as legitimate sources of information as each segment looks to specific individuals and sources for assurance and validation when purchasing a technical product (Margulis et al., 2020; Parasuraman & Colby, 2015; Moore, 2014; Cruz-Cardenas et al., 2019).
Conventionally, the core of a marketing message is based on the attributes or abilities of the product (the features), and— most importantly—highlights the resulting improvement on the consumer’s lifestyle (the benefits) of each attribute. Notably, as explored in the following sections, features and benefits have different effects on different technical consumers. In general, the earliest consumers (like product developers) are persuaded more by technical features providing new abilities and higher performance, but are less concerned with how these features translate into real- world benefits. In contrast, the majority of technology consumers (notably, those necessary for commercial success) are skeptical of the latest technical claims and are somewhat resistant to adopting new technologies and modifying behavioral patterns necessitated by major innovation (even when the technology and new behavioral patterns are objectively beneficial to the individual) (Gourville, 2005; Potts, 2010). Due to the different audiences within a market, both the marketing messaging and strategy that companies employ must evolve throughout the product lifecycle, or the phase of product on the market between product launch and discontinuation (Damianov, 2019), in order to reach the right potential consumer niche at the right time.
Notably, the communication phase of marketing technical products is the most variable part of “marketing.” By definition, marketing encompasses all of the business activities that are necessary for commercialization of a product or service (Einstein, 2017). Conventionally, marketing is organized into the “4Ps,” which includes the product (the attributes and application of the product), the price (the cost to consumers), the place (where and how the product is sold), and the promotion (which includes the strategic messaging and all forms of communication about the product). Thus, a market may still be originally defined by consumers with similar needs and wants for a technology product and have the product delivered to consumers through the same place or source. Yet, referencing sales as an analogy, some consumers are more sensitive to price and require adaptable strategies by companies. Similarly, some technology consumers are more motivated by some messaging and sources, so the overall approach for marketing communication (or promotion) must be adapted.
Wall & Spinuzzi (2018) have introduced the field to content marketing as a network of print and digital communications that provide consumers with educational and informative content at every stage of a multistage purchase process—from basic information gathering, through a decision-making process, and ultimately to product purchasing. In addition to providing product information, storytelling is a current trend in content marketing trend to develop a comprehensive narrative about a product, company, or technology that resonates with the market (Pulizzi, 2012; Vinerean, 2017; Jones & Comfort, 2018).
The content marketing strategy emphasizes the coordination of all communications about a product, with messaging that provides relevant, useful, and consistent information through multiple media and interpersonal sources (Pulizzi, 2014; Ames, 2017). Notably, an important goal of content marketing is to essentially become multimedia publishers that develop and distribute any genres with product information to reach target audiences and ultimately promote sales (Pulizzi, 2012; Pulizzi, 2014; Calhoun, 2006). This coordinated communication and content management strategy is complex in the genres, communication channels, and media used to reach potential audiences (Wall & Spinuzzi, 2018; Keller, 2001). Content marketing provides the groundwork for a content strategy, yet is limited by origins in consumer goods and familiar product categories that lack the additional complexity of innovative technical product categories. Thus, technical content marketing, or content marketing of technical products, is necessary as a subfield of content marketing to address the added dimension of previous research into the unique characteristics of technology consumers. In technical content marketing, the marketing communications are further refined and then targeted to different audiences with different attitudes towards technologies at different timepoints following the launch of a new technology.
With the complexity of technical content marketing, technical communicators are well positioned with the necessary skills to develop the marketing messaging for technical products (Wall & Spinuzzi, 2018; Harner & Zimmerman, 2002; J. King, 1993) and manage complex networks of genres through content strategy (Batova & Andersen, 2016; Clark, 2016; Gonzales et al., 2016; Andersen, 2008; Pullman & Gu, 2007). In fact, content strategy overlaps with many of the objectives of content marketing (Batova & Andersen, 2016; Clark, 2016; Getto et al., 2019). Notably, content strategy emphasizes a continual process of planning, creating, delivering, and governing (managing) content in which information also has a lifecycle (Batova & Andersen, 2016; Getto et al., 2019). As content strategists connecting various streams of research, technical communicators can help shape the future of technical content marketing by transforming a monolithic marketing voice and message into user-specific and user-defined communication. Shifting the message planning from originating with the product and company of developers to the user transforms how various groups within a market access, interact, and share marketing communications as well as influence how individuals create original, user-generated information about technical products and services (Walwema et al., 2019; Robles, 2019; Tajvidi et al., 2018; London et al., 2015).
In this techniques report, various threads of technical product marketing are synthesized through the lens of designing technical content marketing for markets composed of dissimilar technology consumers. In this review, readers are provided with a lens for adapting the messaging and communications strategy for different audiences with various attitudes towards product innovation, which often differs from the homogenous voices of product developers within technical companies. Notably, consumers of innovative technologies have different attitudes towards technology (often unfamiliar to those working in technical fields) and thus the messaging of the technical content marketing must be adapted to less authoritative, technology-centric voices for these users (Margulis et al., 2020). By taking a user-focus on communication, the early movement for writing “effective” technical marketing communications based on a universal view of technical product benefits for technical consumers (J. King, 1993; Henson, 1994; Guthrie, 1995; Harner & Zimmerman, 2002) is expanded to address the various viewpoints of different types of technical consumers as well as different categories of truly innovative technical products and services (Margulis et al., 2020; Moore, 2014; Potts, 2010; Rogers 2003). In this article, the different categories of innovative technical products (or services) are presented for comparison and differentiation beyond the simple term of “technical,” which can be universally applied to products and services that differ in innovation. Following this distinction, the shift in technology consumer messaging needs is examined along the product lifecycle for innovative technical products.
CATEGORIES OF INNOVATIVE TECHNICAL PRODUCTS
To develop effective content marketing for innovative technical products, writers of technical content marketing focus on the real- world use of the product and how it uniquely solves the consumer’s problem rather than describing the underlying technology. In the 21st century, the underlying technology of many products has become quite complex (e.g., smartphones), but such technical complexity of the products, alone, is insufficient to account for innovation of use—or the novel consumer application enabled by the technology—which is the focus of the marketing messaging (Schuh et al., 2018; Day et al., 1979; Moore, 2014; Schnaars, 1989). When planning the primary marketing message for a new product, the primary question a writer should ask is: How familiar are potential consumers currently with the product category? The degree of innovation—or the similarity of the product to other available technologies—influences the content marketing messaging and, in turn, consumer adoption of new technologies (Schuh et al., 2018; Damanpour, 1988).
Truly innovative products, colloquially referred to by the ironic term “new new products,” such as the original desktop computer or first mobile phone, either (1) enable novel consumer activities— addressing a previously unaddressed consumer need or desire, or (2) enable a significantly improved experience over previous technologies, such as Google, which dominated internet search by improving the accuracy and speed of results (Schuh et al., 2018; Moore, 2014; Sampson, 1970; Goulding, 1983). Such “breakthrough” innovations (also known as revolutionary or radical products) are relatively infrequent and cause a significant shift in consumer use or experience (notably, these technologies make a big change in consumer behavior) (Rogers, 2003; Moore, 2014; Schuh et al., 2018). Revolutionary products often emerge from technological breakthroughs, so the need to inform and educate consumers about the availability and use of these unfamiliar technologies is the core strategy of the marketing efforts— for example, how such products work and how they can be used to improve life (Goulding, 1983; Moore, 2014; Mogull, 2018).
In contrast to the relative rarity of revolutionary technical products, most “new” technical products are evolutionary products that provide consumers with small, incremental improvements over existing technologies. Familiar examples of evolutionary products include an improved smartphone with a new feature such as a digital camera with a higher pixel resolution. Evolutionary products that provide small improvements to existing, familiar technologies do not require as comprehensive educational content marketing and rather rely more on awareness campaigns since consumers likely already understand the primary application and benefits from prior exposure (Goulding, 1983; White, 1976; S. King, 1971; Moore, 2014; Mogull, 2018).
As mentioned previously, one factor influencing the probability of product success, as well as a critical element in determining the marketing of innovative technical products, is for the writer to consider the behavioral changes that are necessitated by using a new technology (Gourville, 2005; Schuh et al., 2018). As illustrated in Figure 1, Gourville (2005) provides a four-quadrant map comparing the degree of behavior change to the degree of the product (category) innovation. Notably, very few “new new products” are classified as a home run, which are significant technological advancements that require an uncommonly low degree of behavioral change to consumers. A familiar example of a home run is the Google search engine, which was a significantly improved Web search algorithm (a behind-the-scenes improvement) that did not require consumers to make much of a change in the user interface of previously market-leading search engines. In contrast, the majority of “new new [technical] products” fall into the long- haul quadrant, which new technology necessitates consumers change their behavior around the newly enabled processes. An example of a long-haul technology would be the first desktop computer running DOS—in which the content writers needed to justify the value (or “benefit”) of the technology into the target consumers’ (audiences’) lifestyle. Even if the behavior changes are beneficial (such as enabling a new task, or making a task easier or faster), a long-term educational strategy is required that addresses the unique attitudes of technology consumers (which is examined in the following section). Among the relative low degree of product innovation categories (left column), in which the content marketing strategy mirrors that of the long haul—the value of the technology to the consumer (and therefore the company) are limited (and thus, the predicted “death” of the product in which the costs to educate the consumer outweighs the market potential).
When considering value and benefit of technology, these criteria are typically situated in local cultures. However, the innate value and benefits of technology, like genres, are socially constructed and may be interpreted with different meaning in users of a different culture (Sun, 2012, 2013; Cruz-Cardenas et al., 2019). For example, such disconnect stems from local development of technology, especially social media platforms (such as Twitter and Sina Weibo) in which the interfaces that dictate behavioral change are translated to a culture where the actions are unfamiliar (Sun, 2013). Thus, functional similarities between technologies may be differentiated by differences in localized user experience, and, more critically evaluated by culturally localized user engagement and empowerment (CLUE2), which considers the degree of behavior change from existing habits as well as cultural norms (Sun, 2020). As such, categorization of product innovation based on the degree of change in consumer behavior cannot be transferred between cultures, but must be re-analyzed locally and contextually. Together, these criteria provide a lens for the audience and messages of new technology, which are then adapted for the phase of the technological innovation according to the phase of consumer adoption (Moore, 2014).
AUDIENCES AND MESSAGING ALONG THE TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION LIFE CYCLE
Consumer adoption of innovative technical products can be modeled along a bell curve known as the technology adoption life cycle, which separates consumers by attitude towards new technology and openness to behavioral or procedural change— factors that reflect the time that consumers will need to purchase new technologies (Moore, 2014; Rogers, 2003; Gourville, 2005; Mahajan et al., 1990). In the technology adoption life cycle, consumers are distributed into five distinct groups (see Figure 2). The five groups of consumers, from the first to adopt a technology (the innovators) to the last (the laggards), are segmented into two broader markets, the early market and mainstream market, in which the consumers have significantly different needs and desires (Moore, 2014; Hirschman, 1980). The early market, which includes innovators and early adopters, consists of the first consumer groups willing to purchase an innovative technical product and represents the first market opportunities for a new technology—although this is only about 16% of the total potential market. Consumers in the early market have psychological motivations somewhat similar to developers and entrepreneurs, called consumer innovativeness, which is characterized by a strong interest in technology and technical innovation, openness to the cognitive and procedural challenge of learning a new technology, and willingness to risk investing money and time in a novel technology that may not completely meet expectations or become widely adopted (Im et al., 2003; Moore, 2014; Gourville, 2005; Midgley & Dowling, 1978; Hirschman, 1980). In contrast to the early market consumers, the mainstream market, which is typically necessary for commercial success in order to exceed the original investment into a product (see Figure 1), includes more cautious groups of consumers (segmented into the early majority, late majority, and laggards). A chasm, or pause in technical product sales, separates the early market from the mainstream market during which companies struggle to transition their marketing strategies to a different group of consumers. Notably, the mainstream market groups perceive greater risk in adopting a new technology and require more time to evaluate and accept a new technology (Beal & Rogers, 1960; Hirunyawipada & Paswan, 2006).
Within the early market, the innovators are technology enthusiasts who first adopt a new technology often primarily because it is new. This group, which is only 2.5% of the total market, is highly interested in the technical features and details of new technologies and often compares the technical specifications to previous technologies. Innovators are unique in that they are the group of consumers most interested in the technical features of the product—similar to product developers—and have the desire to be among the first consumers to have a new technology. Being among the first to adopt a new technology enables innovators to assume an advisory role within their reference group—a role that these individuals like to occupy. Occasionally, innovators will seek out new technical products before the products are formally launched, or made available for purchase, which makes this group a popular beta testing market. As a technically savvy group, this group is the most forgiving of glitches in product performance or a lack of compatibility between a new product and other technology. Innovators are also more technically adaptable than any other group —they are prone to developing their own solutions to using the product successfully. In terms of communication, this group carefully reads the marketing and product literature and is rather demanding of open, honest, and sufficient technical information about the product so they can understand how the technology operates and be able to resolve any issues that arise. This group often networks with other innovators to share information about new technologies. While this group is an attractive market for technical companies, it is typically very small and thus not large enough to reach profitability. Additionally, innovators are not representative of other consumers, which means that marketing, that is effective for early adopters will not necessary be effective for other consumers. Furthermore, innovators rarely have significant influence on non- innovator consumers since this group is repeatedly adopting the latest technologies and does not share the same pragmatic concerns of other groups (Rogers, 2003).
The next group of consumers in the early market, the early adopters, which comprise 13.5% of the total market, are characterized as “visionaries” who are the first to recognize a novel productive application of a new technology. In contrast to the innovators, who are technology enthusiasts, early adopters are primarily interested in a new application or significantly improved process that is enabled by the new technology. Early adopters are particularly demanding of product performance—focusing on a tangible and measurable application of the technology to accomplish a specific goal better than an existing technology. In terms of marketing communications, the most important and effective information for this group is performance data—often including a comparison of the time and cost investment necessary to accomplish a task with established technology. Similar to innovators, early adopters need detailed technical specifications of the technology to help them use the technology in novel situations. Additionally, this group is very sensitive to timelines and deadlines, thus expecting detailed content marketing as well as quick response to requests for additional information. In some cases, early adopters may recognize a novel use for the technology that was unintended by the developer (which may be an important market opportunity if the marketing materials are redesigned to highlight novel applications). Psychologically, early adopters are motivated by high-risk and high-reward projects the technology enables and they accept the inherent higher risk of being the first to try the new technology to solve a problem. Since early adopters are conscious that they are on the forefront of technology, they will be more tolerant of product glitches and overall failures than mainstream market consumers. According to the research literature, early adopters also tend to be outgoing and ambitious and often willing to serve as highly visible references for a technology, which makes them good candidates for highlighting in marketing case studies. This group is typically more influential than innovators and the successful cases are considered “role models” for other potential consumers (Rogers, 2003, p. 283).
Following sales innovators and early adopters, technologies reach a chasm—a pause in sales during which companies struggle to gain acceptance of a technology by the mainstream market (84% of the total market). Distinct from the early market, mainstream market consumers are cautious consumers who are resistant to adopting new technologies and changing processes and behaviors. Compared to the early market consumers, mainstream market consumers are persuaded less by the innovativeness of the technological features, less able to envision a novel use of the technology, and are generally more skeptical of marketing claims from companies. Consumer groups in the mainstream market are notably more cautious of technology and technological innovation—in particular, these consumers are more resistant to the behavioral changes and possible risks introduced by new technical products. These consumers are more pragmatic than early market consumers. Mainstream market consumers delay investment in a new technology until it is confirmed through adoption and use by other consumer groups that it meets the original expectations and performance claims and proves to sufficiently integrate into other technologies and personal practices (Rogers, 2003; Midgley & Dowling, 1978). These consumers are concerned that the future of innovative technologies is unpredictable as newer products can rapidly replace a particular technical product and that they may make the “wrong decision” by selecting a technology that is quickly outdated (Moore, 2014; Shanklin & Ryans, 1984).
To some degree, mainstream market consumers create a dilemma for themselves and for technology companies in that they wait for widespread adoption of a technology before they personally invest in a new technology—thus contributing to a delay in widespread adoption. The difference between the early market and the mainstream market is visible in sales graphs showing that technical products have a noticeable decrease in sales (a “saddle”) after the early market is exhausted. Between one-third to one-half of technical B2C products will show a prominent saddle (Goldenberg et al., 2002). Many innovative technical products do not recover from the initial hype of the early market and never reach widespread sales or adoption by mainstream consumers (Moore 2014; Goldenberg et al., 2002; Mohr et al., 2010). Examples of innovative technologies that did not reach the mainstream market include Segways, pen- based tablets, and fuel cells (Mohr et al., 2010). Changing the marketing messaging and approach between the early market and mainstream market will help shorten the duration of the chasm and limit a downturn in sales (the “saddle”) (Goldenberg et al., 2002).
A major mistake of technical companies that delays or prevents access to the mainstream market is the relatively common phenomenon of corporate myopia, or the tendency of organizations and marketing professionals to become infatuated with the novelty and technical details of their own new product, which is reinforced by early market consumers. Such corporate myopia reflects a technical marketing strategy that emphasizes the “features,” or technical specifications of a product, rather than the “benefits” (detailed previously). Since consumer psychology and motivation for the mainstream market are considerably different than the early market, content marketing that was effective in the early market is less effective in the mainstream market (Mohr et al., 2010; Mahajan et al., 1990; Bass, 1969). Rather, to cross the chasm into the mainstream market, companies need to place even greater emphasis on objectively evaluating the technology from the perspectives of consumer use and benefit.
Another major difference between technology consumers is the persuasive nature of the communication. At the beginning of a technology, consumers tend to be predominantly influenced by external factors, or the product-centric marketing genres that include brochures, product sheets, and technology webpages (see Figure 3). In contrast, a greater proportion of consumers in the mainstream market are persuaded by interpersonal sources, such as word-of-mouth from other consumers, personal observation of pragmatic consumers using the technology, and opportunities to personally experiment with trial versions of a technology (Mohr et al., 2010; Mahajan et al., 1990; Bass, 1969). The psychological motivations of the three categories of the mainstream market, which are discussed below, should be integrated into revamped technical content marketing materials (and updated with new marketing strategies) that leverage consumer success stories (or case studies), online reviews, and interpersonal communication channels such as social media.
The first consumer group of the mainstream market willing to invest in a new technology is the early majority, a sizeable segment of the market (34% of potential consumers), which is more than twice the size of the early market. Similar to early adopters, the early majority purchases technology for the new capabilities or process improvements enabled by the new technology—not because of the technical features inherent in the product. Moreover, radical innovative technical products (or products marketed as radical innovations) are considered by these consumers to have greater risk and therefore such marketing labels are counterproductive when transitioning to the mainstream market (Moriarty & Kosnik, 1989; Shanklin & Ryans, 1984). The early majority is more conservative than previous consumers and is ultimately motivated by an innate sense of practicality of adopting the technology (a personal cost-benefit analysis). Unlike early market consumers, the early majority (and all mainstream market) consumers need to establish greater trust and confidence in the reliability of a product and in the stability in the manufacturing organization. Notably, the early majority wants to ensure that a new technology is not a passing fad. Such apprehension of mainstream market consumers is referred to as the “FUD factor,” an acronym that represents the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that are key psychological barriers these consumers have when purchasing new technologies (Mohr et al., 2010). Specifically, the FUD factor includes:
- Fear: loss of money, time, and effort by investing in an unreliable or short-lasting technology (and possible fear of physical safety, depending on the technology);
- Uncertainty: confusion or lack of clarity about the need or problem that a technology solves; and
- Doubt: disbelief that a technical innovation will meet the marketing claims, that the manufacturing organization is reliable, and/or that the technology will be a reliable standard for future use (particularly if the product requires a reliable source of consumable parts or has the infrastructure to fully support use, such as raw materials for 3D printing machines or a network of charging stations for electric cars).
As described by Moore (2014), the early majority has “learned the hard way that the ‘leading edge’ of technology is all too often the ‘bleeding edge’” (p. 54) with a high risk of losing money, time, and effort.
The early majority requires a significant shift in the content marketing from emphasizing the novelty or radical innovation of a technology to more of an incremental and measurable improvement in the evolution of technology, which has been demonstrated through adoption by other pragmatic consumers (Moore, 2014; Mohr et al., 2010). Additionally, the early majority is very concerned with the quality and reliability of the technology as well as the reliability and stability of the manufacturing organization as a market leader in the field. Compared to previous consumer groups, the early majority requires more time to assess and develop trust or confidence in the technology and stability of a commercial organization (Kim et al., 2008). Multiple factors influence the rate of adoption of a technology by the mainstream market and ultimate success (Rogers, 2003), such as:
- Relative advantage: The degree to which an innovative technical product is a clear and measurable improvement to use when compared to current technology. In particular, these consumers must understand how the technology aids them with activities that they need or want to perform, and why the technology is better for the task than other technologies.
- Compatibility: The ease with which an innovative technical product can be integrated with other technologies and current behaviors or procedures already adopted by the consumer. Furthermore, technology must fit within the social and cultural norms of a consumer’s reference group. New technologies that require greater deviation from previously established behaviors and norms are less likely to be adopted by mainstream market consumers—even if the new behaviors are objectively beneficial. An example of a technical product that was socially rejected by mainstream consumers is the Segway scooter.
- Complexity: The clear application and—importantly— relatively easy and simple operation of an innovative technical product. There is an inverse relationship between technical complexity and product adoption by mainstream market consumers.
- Observability and trialability: The availability of an innovative technical product to be observed in active use or used on a trial basis.
As mentioned previously, early majority consumers are persuaded more by interpersonal factors than external factors and are strongly motivated by references from pragmatic consumers as well as personal relationships with product company representatives (Moore, 2014; Rogers, 2003; Beal & Rogers, 1960). The most appropriate forms of technical content marketing for this group includes customer success stories (or case studies), endorsements of a technology by prominent users, and news articles published by well-established news outlets or blogs. Adoption of an innovative technology by this first group of the mainstream market shifts the technology from being novel, cutting-edge technology to a standard, increasingly accepted technology, which further enhances sales from the loyalty and word-of-mouth endorsement of the early majority consumer base.
Due to the size and complexity of the early majority, it is not generally targeted as a single market but rather the marketing strategy is to divide this large, diverse segment into two phases known as the bowling alley and the tornado. In the bowling alley, the goal is to target specific, niche markets for adoption of the technology and then move from one niche market to another similar or related niche market that would be influenced by the previous one (Moore, 1995). Each niche market leading to and influencing the next one is represented by the metaphor of a bowling pin knocking down the next. The key in the bowling alley phase is to identify and focus the marketing strategy on an essential need of one niche market that is solved by the technology (Moore, 1995). Marketing efforts should focus on reaching and achieving success with one niche market before moving to another. The focus on sequential niche markets continues until the second phase, the tornado, which occurs when the early majority (as a collective group) reaches the consensus that a technology is the de facto standard. During this phase, the technology is rapidly adopted by diverse niche markets that are not specifically targeted by the marketing strategy. A familiar example of a technology platform that used the bowling alley to tornado approach is LinkedIn, an online social network used predominantly for professional networking (Mohr et al., 2010). Initially, LinkedIn targeted their social network to connect professional (job) recruiters, a niche market, by focusing specifically on the needs of the niche market. The next niche market that LinkedIn targeted were business executives searching for new positions, which was facilitated by promoting exposure to a large network of recruiters. Adoption of LinkedIn by business leaders at the top of corporations then influenced other professionals to adopt the social media platform—including niches not directly targeted by the marketing efforts. Similarly, new technologies should be introduced to the early majority using a similar strategic approach marketing from one niche market to the next as the technology becomes an industry standard for each niche.
Following the tornado of early majority consumers, the second group of consumers in the mainstream market, the late majority, represents another 34% of potential technology consumers. Similar to the early majority, the late majority is also considered a conservative technology consumer group, but it is unique in that these consumers are intimidated, possibly fearful, of technology. The late majority is more resistant than the early majority to adoption behavior and peer influence from other consumers, so personal endorsements and opinions from other consumers is less effective as a marketing approach. However, the late majority will adopt a technology as these individuals become increasingly aware and concerned that they are lagging behind the current technology and are at a functional disadvantage (Rogers, 2003). Furthermore, this group prefers convenient, easy-to-use, and low- cost technologies rather than the latest advancements or top-of-the- line products with numerous features. Many technology companies do not specifically target or fully develop sales to the late majority market, which means that this group represents a significant market opportunity for companies. A familiar example of a technology company targeting the late majority is Consumer Cellular, a US- based mobile phone provider focusing on low-cost, easy-to-use technology for older adults. Notably, the late majority has high expectations for personal service and evidence demonstrating the benefit and value of a technology as it fits into their lifestyle.
If the late majority seems challenging for marketing technical products, the last group, the laggards, which are the remaining 16% of the potential market, are the most difficult to reach through marketing. Rather than trying to reach the laggards as consumers, Moore (2014) stated the primary objective is to minimize their negative influence on other consumer groups. Laggards tend to be skeptical of innovation and adhere to conventional and traditional approaches rather than relying on technical innovation (Rogers, 2003). An important consideration is that this market segment is comprised of vocal critics that communicate throughout their social networks any unfounded or exaggerated marketing claims that differ from actual performance of the technology in order to undermine adoption of the technology (Moore, 2014; Rogers, 2003). Despite their vocal criticism of technology, this group has limited influence on the purchase decisions of other consumer groups except when laggards are in a position of authority or control in which they are able to the block purchase of others. Therefore, by keeping marketing claims accurate, marketing professionals can minimize the evidence and resulting opportunities for laggards to undermine a technology.
Technical superiority of innovative products from scientific and engineering advancements has significant market potential—but fail at an average rate greater than 50% (Lynn & Reilly, 2002), a rate higher than general consumer products (Gourville, 2005), due to ineffective marketing messaging and strategy (Mohr et al., 2010). Writing effective marketing copy and strategic planning of technical marketing communication design in high-technology industries, particularly for innovative product categories, is different than consumer-product marketing and requires technical content marketers to have technical expertise, skill to design effective communications, and, as described here, a market understanding of different technology consumers (Mohr et al., 2010; Moriarty & Kosnik, 1989; Guthrie, 1995; Wall & Spinuzzi, 2018). Technical content marketing, which is a subcategory of content marketing that overlaps with technical communication, focuses on both informative and persuasive development of marketing communications for high-tech products (e.g., a DNA sequencer instrument or a company-scale content management software product). This article explored the fundamentals of technical consumers throughout the technology adoption lifecycle, and provided a research-grounded summary to guide copywriters and communication strategists through the planning, writing, and distributing of content-rich, informative marketing for high-tech products at the appropriate points for each category of consumer audience. As covered in this article, both the messaging and medium (or source) adapt to the different motivations and needs for the diverse categories of technology consumers—who should not be considered homogenous nor necessarily similar in motivation to the developers, entrepreneurs, and other employees in high-tech companies. Notably, technical content marketing is a nuanced form of marketing with audiences segmented along technology comfort and innovation, which provides career opportunities for technical writers, technical experts, and entrepreneurs who are interested in commercializing innovative products and services from the latest scientific research and engineering technologies (Schuh et al., 2018; Bryan, 1992; J. King, 1993; Henson, 1994; Guthrie, 1995; Harner & Zimmerman, 2002; Hardesty, 2009; Spartz & Weber, 2015).
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Scott Mogull is an Associate Professor in the Technical Communication Program within the Department of English at Texas State University. He has a Ph.D. in Technical Communication from Texas Tech University where he researched pharmaceutical marketing. Currently, his research focuses on the technical content marketing and the commercialization of technology. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Mogull spent eight years in the biotechnology, biodefense, and molecular diagnostics (“testing”) industries.