Unearth the power of declared data
Insights That Work

Trailblazers, Early Adopters & Late Bloomers: Understanding Your Target Market

Understanding the innovation adoption curve in the insights industry to meet your client's adoption journey for greater marketing and sales success.

In 2017 we wrote a lot about innovation: what it is, how it works and why it is important in the insights industry. However, innovation doesn’t mean much if you can’t sell the new and improved product or service. The goal of purposeful innovation is to ensure you are meeting a need in the market, but exactly how do you determine what that market is, especially in an industry as fragmented as market research?

Well, thankfully our good friends at GreenBook have been giving us some tools we can use via their always excellent GRIT report. Specifically, in the past few years they have looked at two different approaches for segmenting the industry, one in 2014 via attitudes towards change (a great proxy for innovation) and in the most recent report using the lens of factors for project success.

For our purposes in this post, a blending of the two can provide a fairly good guide on how to identify your targets, whom we’ll call Trailblazers, Early Adopters & Late Bloomers based on where they sit on a slightly modified version of the classic Rogers Technology Adoption Curve.



Understanding where your clients or prospects sit within these segments can greatly increase your sales and marketing ROI and help ensure your business stays aligned to purposeful innovation by focusing your efforts on creating the right message to the right decision-makers/influencers at the right time in their own adoption journey.  While you won’t have the benefit of taking every target through the process GRIT used to identify these segments, you can develop a screening criteria or series of discussion points that can help you roughly identify where they may fit so you can fine tune your message accordingly.

With the generous permission of GreenBook, we’re going to pull heavily from those two GRIT reports as we attempt to create our own synthesis of these segments under the three target groups outlined above.

Before we dive in, a note on the two approaches used by GRIT. The 2014 study used the MindSight model developed by Dr. David Forbes to derive the segments:

“We wanted to understand the emotions associated with feelings of optimism and pessimism –understanding, of course, that the sentiments uncovered in our analysis are from an ‘innovation lens.’ So, we started by asking folks a simple question: ‘In general, are you personally more happy about the direction market research is moving in OR more concerned about the direction market research is moving in?’  We then used respondents’ answers to this question to tailor the set-up of the response exercise (MindSight®), and then used CART models to better understand the various paths to Optimism and Pessimism.”

This emotional lens created four distinct segments:  “Novelty Surfer” Optimists, “Strategic Curators” Optimists, “Hand-Cuffed & Constrained” Pessimists, and “Kicking & Screaming” Pessimists.  

In the 2017 edition, a MaxDiff approach was used, resulting in the development of a clustering scheme that identified “distinct segments of research providers and buyers in terms of the factors they emphasize to achieve project success. Understanding distinct patterns of factor emphasis through a clustering technique provides deeper insight about the drivers of project success in the eyes of research suppliers and the clients they serve.”

As you will see, there is significant alignment between their results and our own three segment model.  


Trailblazers are a group that are less risk-averse than any others. They are less focused on the process and more focused on the potential results and are always looking for new ways to create impact. Trailblazers are experimenters and are open to failure within a limited range.

From the 2014 GRIT segmentation, we would align them with the optimists that fit within the “Riding The Wave” segment:



“Among Optimists, a path to optimism we call ‘Riding the Wave’ describes the aspiring innovation leaders in our midst.  These individuals believe innovation will drive the future of market research; they embrace innovation, and are excited and energized by the prospects offered by innovation.  These professionals understand that innovative techniques help them be successful by overcoming some of the challenges of traditional techniques and by providing superior insights that go beyond what is feasible with more traditional methods. “

Looking for alignment with the 2017 scheme, we see strong synergy with two groups:  

“Research Suppliers – Business drivers (42%): The researchers in this segment are characterized by their strong degree of focus on delivering recommendations that drive the business and providing a clear linkage to business objectives. These two areas of focus dominate the segment.

Research Buyers – Action-inducing storytellers (42%): This group is dominated by three factors associated with project success – a clear linkage to business objectives, a focused story and the outcome of executives implementing action based on the results.”

How to identify Trailblazers?

  1. More focused on outcomes than the process
  2. Open to experimentation
  3. Are more benefit driven as opposed to feature driven
  4. Embrace and welcome change
  5. Likely have been in the research industry for less than 10 years

Early Adopters

Early Adopters are a bit more pragmatic. They are “show me” inclined, meaning they want to limit risk by looking at proof that something works before jumping in, seeking a happy median between process and outcomes. The status quo is acceptable if nothing demonstrably better is available, but they are always open to innovation if it is, in fact, better on some levels and aligns with organizational priorities.   

From the GRIT 2014 model, we think the “Strategic Curators” fit well into this segment.



Strategic Curators” place a similar importance on innovation, but focus on the need to strategically curate innovative techniques alongside more established/traditional methods.  The “baby” of established strategic research and analytic techniques is safe with these researchers, even as they discard the “bathwater” of tired and outdated practices.  They look at new innovative techniques as offering new choices that add to established research science, and they have truly found greater insight by incorporating the best of both toolkits — the “tried and true” and the “latest and greatest.”

From the GRIT 2017 approach, we actually see three identified segments fitting into the Early Adaptors target market:

“Research Buyers – Analysis-based storytellers (42%): As with the Action-inducing Storyteller segment, this segment also focuses on linkage to business objectives and providing a focused story. The differentiating factor for this segment, however, is the importance of a rigorous analysis as part of that process.

Research Suppliers – Business drivers with a need for speed (21%):  While the focus on delivering recommendations and linkage with business objectives are very important to this group as well, these two factors do not dominate to the extent seen in the Business Driver segment.  ‘Fast results’ also emerges as an important factor for this segment.   

Research Suppliers – Fast methodologists (16%): The three leading success factors articulated by this segment include the use of proven methodologies, fast results and use of an appropriate sampling frame. This segment is the least likely to cite delivering recommendations that drive the business or providing a clear linkage to business objectives as focal areas for project success.”

How to identify Early Adopters?

  1. Process-oriented
  2. Require proof of concepts through case studies and validation resources
  3. Benefits are ultimately important, but the features define how to reach them
  4. Expect change, but want to control the process
  5. Likely have been in the research industry for more than 10 years

Late Bloomers

Finally, we have the Late Bloomers. They are the hardest nut to crack from an adoption perspective. This group can be thought of as “conservative traditionalists” and may live by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, that doesn’t mean they are not open to innovation, they are simply slower to adopt new things and may be more open to “incremental innovation” or augmentation vs. replacement when thinking of methodologies. For Late Bloomers as long as the business need is being met there isn’t an imperative to change.

The GRIT 2014 segmentation contained two groups that fit as Late Bloomers:



For a large group of pessimists, the experience of working in today’s changing professional environment creates a sense of being dragged along or “Kicking and Screaming.”  These researchers do not believe in the value of innovative techniques, have extreme levels of fear about change, and only resort to using more innovative techniques because they are required to do so. Clearly innovation is outside of their core comfort zone.  Rather than enthusiasm, these researchers report an overall disinterest in the new directions that MR is taking.



For a second group of pessimists, negative expectations appear to be predominantly driven by concerns for personal prospects for embracing change.  This group of “Hand-Cuffed and Constrained” sees the value and potential offered by innovation and really wants to be part of innovation, but for various reasons (e.g., client driven or resource driven), they are constrained from using these techniques.  These professionals feel as if they are stuck standing on the sideline watching the cool kids “ride the wave.”

And in looking at the 2017 cohorts, we see two groups that can fit here:

“Research Suppliers – Research-focused business drivers (21%): For this segment, the focus on delivering recommendations and linkage to business objectives remains clear but at approximately half the level of the Business Driver segment.  However, selection of an appropriate sampling frame, survey engagement, and the use of proven methodologies plus a connection between the topic and the respondent’s ability to provide a perspective create a more diverse profile for the segment.

Research Buyers – Partner dependents (17%): While a clear linkage to business objectives is important to the segment, it is less important than it is for the other two segments. The distinguishing factor for this segment is the importance of external partners. This segment values an agency that understands its business and which brings a point of view to every study.”

How to identify Late Bloomers?

  1. Process-driven
  2. Require extensive proof and a track record of validation
  3. Benefits & Features must be overwhelmingly apparent to elicit buy-in
  4. Resistant to change unless required
  5. Likely have been in the research industry for more than 20 years

Final Thoughts

In the 2014 GRIT segmentation they addressed the issues inherent with finding the right group well:

“In fact, the whole idea of innovation by definition can create a ‘great divide’ among researchers; while there are some folks who may have joined the industry as innovation drivers and leaders, others may have joined research to perpetuate their strength as deliberate thinkers. In that case, innovative methods can actually seem to be a complete disconnect with the way they think.”

Be sensitive to this divide; in times of disruption, fear of the unknown is a powerful force and simply dismissing that won’t help build bridges for the future. The point of thinking in terms of segments when you are marketing and selling is to fine tune your message to appeal to each group, so take the time to learn how to tweak your pitch to try to open as many doors as possible. Eventually even the most change-resistant group will come on board due to necessity if you build a great product that has a proven track record and can meet the business needs of the organization.

Again, the 2014 GRIT Segmentation offers a sound (and prophetic) perspective that is equally relevant as we begin 2018:         

“We are not experiencing an ‘innovation bubble’ that will burst at some point; technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, our culture evolves right along with it, and the field of market research is swept along with the culture at large. Ideas and technologies that are only newly born this decade will mature and become accepted and refined practices; still newer and more evolved ideas and techniques will continue to emerge. “

As you build a culture of innovation within your organization and bring the fruits of that labor to market, recognize that this is an ongoing process that requires both imagination and discipline in equal measures for long term success.

Want to learn more? Visit Focus Pointe Global.

Please share...

Join the conversation