People don’t respond to your marketing efforts because you’ve created a message that tries to appeal to a broad audience. And when you try to do that, you actually end up appealing to no one. It may sound counterintuitive, but I promise you, a generic message not only doesn’t appeal to a wide audience, it actually alienates a good part of your potential buyers, and specifically, your most important buyers.

Wendy Keneipp

The Law of Diffusion of Innovation, a social science theory developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, helps us understand why. The law helps explain how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and diffuses, or spreads, through a population or social system and how people adopt a new idea, behavior, or product as a result.

You may not think you have anything particularly innovative to share as an insurance agency, but the role of the broker has changed and the value proposition you need to offer to your audience has changed. Which means your message needs to change, as well. For some, your switch from commoditized vendor to consultative adviser will be as innovative as anything employers have ever seen from our industry. Don’t discount your efforts.

There are two key ideas about the law to understand in order to put it to effective use.

First are the key elements playing into this adoption pattern:

Innovators: You, the agencies, are the innovators. As you work to change your business model and expand your value proposition to include a variety of HR-related services, you are creating an innovative scenario that requires reeducating employers on why, how and what to buy from you.

Adopters: Employers looking for a group benefits adviser and/or help with HR programs.

Communication channels: How and where you are sharing your message. The more channels and the right channels, the greater the chance of influencing the right audience.

Time: Passage of time is required to spread the new message. The amount of effort and the number of mediums you put into place will strongly influence this element.

Social systems: External and internal influencers help spread your new ideas. How well you understand and take advantage of your opportunities and connections to help propel your message determines how widely and quickly your message spreads.

Second are the stages of the adoption curve:

  • Innovators 2.5%
  • Early Adopters 13.5%
  • Early Majority 34%
  • Late Majority 34%
  • Laggards 16%

It’s really easy to look at the break-out of how the population falls into these categories and think that targeting the Majority of the curve makes sense. But it’s completely wrong.

Here’s why it doesn’t work to target the majority

The influence pattern of adoption starts from the left side of the curve and works to the right. Each group is dependent on the adoption of the previous group.

Let’s break it down to see how this plays out. However, I want to look at it from the end of the curve working back to the beginning to get clarity on how the influence really impacts each group. Starting from the end, the far right of the curve:

· The Laggards won’t adopt the idea until it has completely saturated the market and there is no other alternative.
· The Late Majority won’t adopt the new ways until the Early Majority has gone all in and it’s become mainstream.
· The Early Majority won’t touch the new idea until there has been a good amount of public talk about it along with proof that it’s worthwhile and/or effective.
· The Early Adopters won’t jump on board until the Innovators have gotten excited about it.
· So, we rely on the Innovators to lead the charge on the new ideas as a means to influencing everyone else along the chain. If you don’t get the attention of the Innovators, you’ll have a hard time getting the social proof that your new ideas and new ways of working are worth the time and money investment of the other groups.

That means you need to appeal to the people who get excited about trying new things. The ones who get fired up and volunteer to being your “guinea pig” on a new idea should become your primary focus for testing new ideas and fleshing them out.

Once they are on board and seeing success with these new ways, then the Early Adopter folks will give it serious consideration – they want some proof, but don’t need a lot. These are your two key groups because they’re going to come on early in the change process and give you the motivation to keep going.

If you can’t successfully appeal to these two groups, then you have no chance of appealing to the Majority.

Crossing the Chasm

After gaining the trust of these first two early groups, then it’s time to capitalize on the momentum and put your communication and social systems to work for you to spread the message to the Early Majority. And this is a critical step that needs significant time and attention because this is the part of the chain where it can all fall apart.

Referred to as the Chasm, it’s where companies have a hard time transitioning and extending their message to the ones who may need a little more convincing and more proof that the ideas are valid (the Majority). In other words, it takes planning, precision, consistency and just general hard work to transition from the Early Adopters to the Majority groups.

"Stop trying to appeal to the majority, and start appealing to the people who are looking to be on the cutting edge."

It’s because of this difficulty in crossing the Chasm from the Innovators/Early Adopters to the Early Majority that new ideas and changes in model gain early traction and then fizzle out.

But it also indicates the point of inflection at which some people successfully transition their entire business to a new way of working and gain unbelievable momentum along the way. Easy success gets some early traction, but it’s the hard work and consistency that separates the pack.

Stop trying to appeal to the majority, and start appealing to the people who are looking to be on the cutting edge. Talk to them in a way that speaks to their desire to be seen as innovative and on the early edge of adoption in HR practices and employee engagement efforts. Or better yet, appeal to their desire to be seen as leaders in their companies and in their field.

Show them what a new way of evaluating and working with an employee benefits consultant looks like and let them see themselves as the heroes in that HR strategy picture. That will gain the attention of the people who will help you successfully transition from being a traditional agency to being an industry-leading consultant and truly a feared competitor.

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