Why bother with Laggards?

The Laggard is an interesting beast.  In marketing terms, the Laggard consumer is so far behind the adoption curve that it makes little sense to expend resources to attract them.  When we are developing new products and services, however, we may want to reconsider the time and attention we give them. 

We've talked about learning from Lead Users as a way to stay ahead of market needs when developing new products and services.  In trying to ensure that the new offering will appeal to a broader audience than just the Lead User, many people like to also learn from the Early Adopters.  While the intent is good, the problem is that the Early Adopter likes new products simply because they are new, and this enthusiasm may lead you down a path that is interesting, but not particularly useful.  Learning from the Average Joe in your category is even less helpful, because these people don't care enough in either direction to illuminate their underlying motivations.

Learning from the Laggard, on the other hand, can yield a treasure trove of useful insight.  In some cases, these people are working just as hard to shun your category as the Lead User is working to innovate within it.  While the Lead User is helping you to understand what your new offering should do, the Laggard can help you to understand what your new offering should not do. 

An (oversimplified) example can be illustrated by the evolution of the PC.  The original PC made it easy to input and store documents and other data.  It also required that you sit in front of it to type in notes you may have taken at a meeting.  Many people did not want to do two steps and limited their use of the PC.  Enter the laptop.  Take it to a meeting or on a trip, and you never miss a beat.  Then there were people who disliked that fact that the screen was so small that they didn't like using it as a sole computer, didn't want to maintain two, and limited their use of the laptop.  Enter the docking station.  You get the point.

Of course, there are some people who are Laggards because their inertia and reluctance to change present too great an obstacle to be overcome, and I'm not suggesting that we break our backs to try.  What I am suggesting is that when trying to innovate within your category,  it may serve you well to find the people who are Laggards because using your current products would force them to give up something valuable.  If you solve that problem for the Laggard, chances are that the rest of your market will like it too.