Learning from, or marketing to?

I've talked about how it is often more valuable to learn from Lead Users than Early Adopters when developing new products and services.  I've even talked about the role of the Laggard in this process.  At this point it would be unfair for me not to mention the value of the Early Adopter.

As mentioned before, Early Adopters are people who are very involved in your product category.  They like to try new things in categories they care about, and they value being the first person to have the latest and greatest.  They also tend to be the people that the average consumer will seek out for advice before buying a new product, because they have likely tried most available options. 

For this reason,  they are a great segment  to focus on when you are marketing new products.  They lead the masses, and can be great advocates for your offering.  In some cases, they are also Lead Users, but not always.  But generally speaking, they are almost always a good segment to "market to."  What can you learn from them?  You can learn about why they are Early Adopters in your category.  Find out what aspect of your category they love, and make sure you speak to those attributes when you market to them.  Many companies already do this type of research.  It is fairly straightforward, and can directly inform your marketing message.

The next time you are planning which consumer segments you are going to research, make sure you can answer these questions.  Are you trying to develop a breakthrough offering, or are you trying to launch or improve an existing offering?  In each case, consider which consumer groups you need to learn from, and which groups you need to market to.  Sometimes the answer is the same, but don't get caught off guard if they are different.