What Is an Early Majority?

The term "early majority" refers to a stage in the diffusion of a new technology that represents its first sizable segment of a population to adopt an innovative offering. An early majority often occurs when a first mover sees initial success by grabbing market share before competitors enter.

The adoption of groundbreaking products can be broken into five segments: innovators (who are the first to adopt), early adoptersearly majority, late majority, and laggards. These groups are plotted along a bell curve to give rough percentages to each population segment. The late majority is the 34% of the population who will adopt a new product only after seeing the majority does.

Key Takeaways

  • The diffusion of technology can be broken into five segments: innovators who are the first to adopt, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
  • Early majorities appear when an innovation succeeds at capturing significant market share out of the gates.
  • The early majority threshold is usually agreed to be comprising roughly one-third of the overall population.
  • An early majority tends to cautiously embrace a new product after they observe a more enthusiastic set of consumers, known as "innovators," take the plunge first.

Understanding Early Majorities

An early majority is reached when product penetration reaches approximately 34% of the overall population who come to embrace a new product only after observing "innovators" and "early adopters" they personally know who enjoy such new-to-market goods. Individuals in the early majority tend to be less affluent and less technologically educated than innovators but are willing to take a chance on new products, after witnessing others do so first.

Companies often rely on a concept known as the Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) Theory, developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, to evaluate how long it will take at least 50% of the population to adopt a new product. Under this theory, innovation adoption populations are siloed into the following five segments:

  1. Innovators. These people are eager to be the first to try out an innovative item.
  2. Early adopters. These consumers represent opinion leaders, who buy products after innovators.
  3. Early majority. These people are seldom leaders, but do adopt new ideas well before the average person.
  4. Late majority. These individuals are skeptical of change.
  5. Laggards. These people are bound by tradition and are consequently the hardest to convert
Stages of Technology Diffusion
Segment % of population
Innovators 2.5 percent
Early Adopters 13.5 percent
Early Majority 34 percent
Late Majority 34 percent
Laggards 16 percent
Stages of Technology Diffusion

Marketing to the Early Majority

When it comes to selling innovative new products, companies can more easily grab the attention of early adopters, than the early majority. While the former group is predisposed to get excited over the prospect of trying new and unique things, the latter group is generally more blasé about new products—especially in the technology space.

But once these consumers finally take the plunge with a new product, they tend to become loyalists and purchase the same item over and over again.

Example of Early Majority

While innovators and early adopters tend to try out new products quickly, the early majority needs more time to feel comfortable enough with the technology, in order to commit to making a purchase.

Consider this real-life historical example: In June 2007, Apple rolled out the first versions of its iPhone, with a relatively high price tag of $600 on its larger storage model. Two months later, Apple lowered the price on this model to $400. And, in 2009, the sticker price of its latest phone again dropped, now to $200. This less expensive version of the iPhone also offered twice the storage as the original.

Despite the inevitable price drops and product improvements, in 2007, innovators and early adopters camped out in front of Apple stores in droves, just so they could be early to get their hands on the new tech. By contrast, early majorities were more inclined to wait for a cheaper version of the product, which they reluctantly bought only after seeing innovators and early adopters embrace the technology.

Just like the early majority, the late majority, which is the fourth major group of consumers to buy a new product, also represents 34% of a population.

The Theory of Technology Diffusion

The terminology for the various stages of adoption grew out of the academic study of the diffusion of innovation in agriculture. This splitting of the population along a bell curve with labels to capture the characteristics of the groups grew out of studies on fertilizer use, livestock antibiotics, and other innovations that are now standard in the agriculture industry.

The original studies started with just the categories of "early majority," "majority," and "non-adopters," but this evolved as researchers looked into how the complexity of an agricultural practice also played a role in diffusion and adoption. As more and more studies looked at these issues, the model was revised with more precise categories and applied to the bell curve.

This adoption model is now commonly applied to the information and communication technology sectors. Interestingly, many of the observations hold up whether you are looking at seed selection in the 1950s or machine learning in the 2020s. It is important to note, however, that the distribution of adoption over time does not necessarily follow a normally distributed bell curve. The rate of diffusion of a new technology may be fat-tailed, asymmetrically skewed, or multi-modal, meaning that the time to 50% (or 100%) adoption may vary unpredictably and may come in distinct waves rather than a smooth curve from introduction to full market penetration.

The more complex a technology is, the longer it will take to penetrate through the early adopters and onto the early and late majorities. With technology, however, the innovation pace can be so fast that the laggards actually skip entire iterations of technology before ending up with what is usually a much more polished, user-friendly product being forced on them.