Marketers love early adopters of new technology. They focus huge amounts of energy on them – which makes economic sense, as they’re usually the pathfinders and even evangelists for the mass of consumers who will follow their lead. 

Where some marketers may be missing a trick, however, is in only ever looking at early adopters and the people who follow them, sheep-like, while completely ignoring the non-adopters (those immune to the charms of a new gadget) and the un-adopters (those who tried it, used it and fell out of love with it).  

Arguably there’s so much more to be learned from those people who either reject the innovation from the outset or, perhaps even more importantly, take it up – and then ditch it. Marketers could profit from understanding why some people are immune or move on, rather than only looking at those who remain loyal. 

If they don’t, if they base their plans only on the reactions of those who love their products and the masses for whom they are ‘good enough’, they’re heading for trouble. 

The Slow-Tech Backlash

Take digital marketing: after years of resistance, brands have finally started investing significant budgets into reaching out to consumers and end users via email, online advertising and mobile – and what happens?  

Ad blocking. Spam filters. ‘Do not call’ registers. Consumers are revolting against the intrusive nature of new technology.  

Marketers should have seen this coming: look at the ‘Slow Food’ and craft alcohol movements. Both were reactions to a fast-paced increasingly globalised lifestyle where brand differentiation was created by slick marketing campaigns, rather than by real differences in quality of product, raw materials, manufacturing process and customer service. Or, given that we’re talking food and drink here, taste. 

The idea of slow tech or no tech certainly seems to chime with a significant chunk of Millennial consumers.  

In 2016, Kantar Futures’ MONITOR rolling research programme asked Millennials about their relationships with their smartphones: 76% said they couldn’t get by without their smartphones (compared with 67% across the whole responder base) – but 69% said they wished they had more self-control and weren’t always checking their phones, while 71% said they wished they could spend more of their free time completely disconnected from technology. 

Search the Internet for terms like ‘slow tech’, ‘no tech’ and ‘digital detox’, and you’ll get thousands of results from a whole range of companies and individuals looking to sell you retreats from the 21st century.  

Leaving aside the inherent self-contradiction involved in technology being used as the main channel to market an escape from technology, there does seem to be a significant demand for tech-free peace and tranquillity. 

Tech Escapists, Not Luddites

We’re not talking about people wanting to become Trappist monks, or Luddites, smashing machines.  

Yes, there are a small number of techno-phobes who probably do want to drop out, move to the woods and – in the words of a recent TV ad for UK broadband provider PlusNet – “become a full-time off-grid spoon whittler”. But, as our MONITOR research shows, two-thirds of the population, and three-quarters of Millennials, don’t want to give up their smartphones.  

What they do want is to be able to have control over the technology in their lives, rather than surrendering to the technology and allowing it to control them. 

Ironically, that desire to control technology has created a whole new technology-driven market, for gadgets and apps that allow us to control all the other gadgets and apps in our lives. As the Hive jingle says, “you control your home from your phone”. 

To return to the idea of the non-adopters and the un-adopters, if marketers don’t take the time to find out why people resisted an idea in the first place or why they tried it and rejected it, then they are throwing away the chance to make their products, or their marketing campaigns, better. 

The Treasure Left Behind

There’s another reason to make sure you understand why people stop using things. The space they leave behind isn’t just empty – it’s rich with data and even possibilities. 

Why are particular industries dying on their feet? Why are certain types of retailer disappearing from our high streets? Where are the customers going? Where is the money going? What are the underlying factors, and what ripples is any disappearance going to create?  

Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum. So when brands, companies and industries disappear, what moves in to fill the gap they’ve left? 

At Kantar, we talk about the Vanishing Point. The basic idea is, always look at what’s disappearing. Don’t just look at what works and ignore what’s failing; look at what’s failing. It’s remarkable just how often markets in apparent terminal decline generate blue-sky innovative ideas that transform sectors and industries. 

There’s also the learnings you get from analysing why industries and sectors are failing – they can often be applied to other markets with similar structures… 

Rebels and Non-conformists

Marketers talk about engaging with consumers – but that usually means engaging with those consumers who are loyally buying their products or services.  

It’s not just marketers who fall into this trap: sales and commercial teams do it, too, all too often – they focus on the easy wins. 

But engaging with the consumers and customers who aren’t behaving the way companies think they should is also a very valuable exercise. 

It can provide advance warning of how values, attitudes and consumption patterns might be changing. It may even help identify opportunities to create entire new business models.  

Exploring the behaviours of the rebels and the escapees, as well as keeping an eye on the mass of apparently contented consumers, is a key factor in creating new business models and new opportunities for growth.  

True innovation – whether in products, services or business models – is almost always driven by the unexpected and by the outliers, not by the masses. And frequently it comes not from established, thriving markets – where companies are often comfortable and see no need for radical change, and vested interests resist new thinking – but from markets which are in decline. 

Look for the rebels and the nonconformists – and learn what they have to teach you.  

By Mark Inskip, Global CEO, Kantar Futures 

Originally posted Targeting Marketing Magazine | 30 October 2017