Unprecedented time for Product Innovation - Crossing the tipping point with 3 additional forces

Background: The tipping point and diffusion of innovations

The law of diffusion of innovations is a theory proposed by Everett Rogers, a professor of communication studies. In short, it illustrates, for any product innovation to reach mass-market success (or sustain“stick”), it needs to reach a critical mass of adopters or “tipping point”. (to read more click here) Everett classifies individuals in the social system in relation to innovation adoptions as follow:

1. Innovators (2.5%) -Risk takers and true believers of innovations, like those people who line up under the rain for 7 days for the iPhone release before it was cool.

2. Early adopters (13.5%) -Opinion leaders and socially forward people who use the judicious choice of adoption to help them maintain a central communication position, like KOL, YouTubers, tech reviewers, etc.

3. Early majority (34%) -Average people who have above average social status, take a longer time to adopt innovations.

4. Late majority (34%)  -The skeptics or people who have below-average social status, financial and other uncertainty may hinder them to adopt innovations.

5. Laggards (16%)-The non-believer or last to adopt innovations, these people may pick up innovations because they have to i.e. they own a smartphone because they cannot buy retro Nokia phones anymore.

The law of diffusion of innovations tells us, to reach mass-market success, the tipping point is between 15% — 18%. Under normal circumstances, it is difficult enough for any product innovations to reach the tipping point. Interestingly, during COVID-19 times, there are 3 FORCES that are acting as additional help.

1st Force, Avalanche of changes as a catalyst to push for innovations

“Two in five consumers in Singapore increased their online shopping activities during the Covid-19 period.”

Market research by Nielsen in March.

It is very clear that online shopping is picking up. On the other side, with more companies forced to adopt working from home (a previously unpopular concept in Asia), products like ZOOM, MS TEAMS, FACEBOOK, etc are pushing new features with the increase of users. Even in our everyday life, entertainment products like TIKTOK, Houseparty, etc are having a big jump in adoption.

With big changes, it comes big opportunities and there are waves of new users’ needs that fuel product innovation. These needs not only represent opportunities that have little to none competitors but also creating an atmosphere to try new things.

2nd Force, Supply withdrawal

Humans are creatures of habits, we would like to maintain our everyday lifestyle and routine as constant as can. With COVID-19, there is a sudden withdrawal of product and services which make our previous routine impossible. And this sudden change forced us to search for a replacement like a drowning person seeking a floater. In relation to the law of diffusion of innovations, imagine part of the laggards or late majority population being forced to try out new products and services because whatever they previously used are no longer available.

Furthermore, if we look at the critical factors to behavior change referencing BJ Fogg’s behavior change model. To change people’s behavior (to create adoption to new product innovations as a replacement to continue their existing routine), their motivation will presumably remain high because there is an innate need to search for a replacement solution, and at the same time, triggers will always be there since it is to replace an existing habit. In this theory, the major obstacle being the “ability” to pick up this new product innovation which I cannot stress enough the importance of user experience design and user research to ease the adoption of new product experience.

3nd Force, Friction of changing back

“69 % of the people surveyed who bought household goods online for the first time during Covid-19 will do so again in the next 12 months.”

Market research by Nielsen in March.

While it is difficult to entice people to try out new products according to the behavior change model, it is as difficult to change back once a new habit is formed. This can also be explained by a cognitive psychology theory of loss aversionpeople’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. Assuming the new product innovation people adopted during COVID-19 is more beneficial or convenient, when COVID-19 is over, it will be more painful to take these benefits away (giving up the new habits and go back to the old way) then giving them the benefits (convincing them to adopt this new product during COVID-19).

What should we do then?

1. Map out the as-is scenario-Especially for those companies who are freezing your operations, your frontline staffs are a wealth of industry insights. It is critical for us to map out the mental model and the experience of how users or customers used to solve their needs. Really, digging deep into HOWs i.e. what are the system and processes, how are they being affected by COVID-19.

2. Prototyping the to-be scenario-Create variations of potential solutions in the form of simple sketches or prototypes. Using artifacts like storyboards to make assumptions of how the ideal uses cases would look like. It is important to create as much possibility as you can.

3. Concept testing with real users-Before beta testing or piloting, usability testing is a very important and often overlooked step to gauge acceptance and market fit of the product, to validate assumptions made during the prototyping phase.

“The only constant is change.” Heraclitus

Our life will never be back to the way before COVID-19, it is time to embrace the change and get ready for the future. I am almost certain that, the trend of “remote” and “contactless” will remain strong in the near future.

P.S This is by no mean a detailed article that covers everything. Please feel free to share me with your thought.

Yu Shing Sit

UX/UI Lead,Singapore

Yu Shing Sit

UX/UI Lead,Singapore