What is the Late Majority?

The "late majority" refers to the second to last segment of a population to adopt innovative technology as it diffuses through a society. The adoption of groundbreaking products can be broken into five segments: innovators (who are the first to adopt), early adopters, early 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.
  • The late majority is the 34% of the population and will adopt a new product only after the majority does.
  • The late majority is typically older, less affluent, and less educated than the early segments in the technology adoption lifecycle.

Understanding the Late Majority

The late majority is typically older, less affluent, and less educated than the early segments in the technology adoption lifecycle. The early adopters and the early majority are younger, more familiar with technology in general, and value it enough to spend the money at an early stage.

In fact, the early adopters are the easiest for companies to capture as long as their product is innovative enough, but both the early majority and late majority require better value propositions. The early majority tend to be willing to take some risk on a new product or technology, but don't want to bear the costs and risks of going first.

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

Companies evaluate how their products will fare by taking into account the time necessary for more than 50% of the market to adopt a new product. It may take a long time for the majority to adopt groundbreaking products and it often requires discounting to access the more reluctant segments.

Usually, it is the late majority that gets the biggest price discount to entice them to buy after the early majority has all bought in. The late majority are followers or skeptics who will buy in only one a new technology has been proven and widely accepted and will be able to base their decision to adopt on known costs and benefits rather than uncertainties.

Following the late majority, laggards tend to hold out until there is no other option to fulfill the same function.

The History Behind the Early and Late Majority Model

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.