Four Characteristics of Early Adopters That Will Help, and Then Later Hurt, Your CleanTech Business

Warren Schirtzinger
5 min readFeb 16, 2018

Early adopters play a significant role in the beginnings of your CleanTech company.

In order for CleanTech products to achieve mass market appeal, they must be refined and improved by a sequence of users, starting with innovators and early adopters. This dynamic, called Diffusion of Innovation, is critical to the success of any emerging CleanTech product or technology. Without the adaptation and improvement that’s demanded by early users, mainstream customers (over 80% of the market) will not adopt your CleanTech product.

Early adopters are the second wave of product purchasers following innovators. These tend to be the most influential people within any market space and they are driven by a dream.

Early Adopters Are Visionaries

Founders of CleanTech companies typically excel at painting a vision of how their product can change the world. They are used to talking about all of the wonderful things that can happen if you adopt their product. Early adopters are attracted to this vision and they tend to possess many of the same fundamental characteristics. The mindset and messaging of CleanTech startups are inspiring for early adopters.

The earliest adopters of clean technology are visionaries. They understand your product’s economic and environmental promise and its potential to transform society. While they still seek some return on their investment, they are also optimists — they believe clean technology will work as expected and move us toward a more sustainable way of living. They overlook the rough edges and potential challenges of being among the first and jump into CleanTech markets early.

Later adopters, on the other hand, will demand more development, support, standards, and near perfection. Therefore, it’s important to jumpstart your company by finding people who will love your early stage product or idea; people who can help you improve your CleanTech product over time.

When taking your new CleanTech product to market, early adopters can be your biggest supporters, friends and allies provided you remember one thing: visionaries are not looking for gradual improvement, they are looking for a fundamental breakthrough. Early adopters are people who have the insight to match a clean technology to a strategic opportunity, combined with the temperament to translate that insight into a high-visibility project.

These “change the world” characteristics of early adopters can literally launch your CleanTech company. Early adopters sometimes represent a hidden source of financial capital, and always bring much-needed visibility to your CleanTech startup.

Unfortunately all methods of marketing to early adopters will fail miserably for you in the future. The visionary characteristics of your early customers are in direct opposition to the characteristics of mainstream customers. Instead of looking at how a clean technology can create a strategic leap forward, mainstream buyers of clean technology have a more pragmatic view of the world and they worry about all of the things that could possibly go wrong if they adopt your new product.

This means moving from early adopters to mainstream customers is a big jump.

Here are four ways the characteristics of early adopters help make a CleanTech business strong, but then hurt your company as it transitions to serving the mass market or mainstream population:

1) help: Visionaries are happy to be the first to try something that no one else is using. This is because visionaries don’t like each other and are happy to go it alone. They see themselves as smarter than people in the same position in other organizations or companies, so they don’t value the experience of colleagues. hurt: The mainstream sees this as foolish because they place a very high value on the experience of colleagues.

2) help: Visionaries tend to take greater interest in technology than they do in their industry. They are bored with the details of their own industry and want to discuss clean technology with people from different industries. hurt: Mainstream buyers would rather stay within the boundaries of their own industry and require references from inside, not outside.

3) help: Visionaries often fail to recognize the importance of the existing product infrastructure. Early adopters move forward without supporting standards. hurt: People in the mainstream use the standards of others in order to be compatible, so that the industry as a whole can be productive.

4) help: Visionaries are generally disruptive and are happy to challenge the status quo with a breakthrough clean technology. If their world-changing project fails, they move on to the next one, leaving those left behind to clean up the mess. hurt: The mainstream buyer wants gradual improvement that doesn’t cause disruption.

To boost the initial sales of your CleanTech product or technology, you can use visionary language to attract and sell to early adopters, which is demonstrated in the following video:

Remember that just as your CleanTech company has learned how to market and sell to early adopters, a big shift in customer characteristics occurs and you must re-learn everything.

Early majority and mainstream customers are less concerned with the vision, or leadership, or making a quantum leap, and more concerned with the practical results. In approaching a new set of customers with a different mindset, CleanTech startups have to be ready to look at their entire strategy — product, messaging, and distribution — with a fresh perspective, and be willing to embrace change across the board.

About Warren Schirtzinger

I use proven marketing and communications strategies to accelerate the adoption of clean energy, green technology and sustainable design….so that CleanTech becomes the norm, not the exception. I’ve helped CleanTech businesses reach into the hearts and minds of a much larger audience, get more customers, and realize their dream of changing the world for the better.

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