Are Larry David and Segway ahead of your marketing plan?

Tomorrow your customers are going to want something different, and you probably are not ready.

The thought is sparked by Darryl at Plaid, who recently met with the founding brains of Segway to learn how and why they created a new concept for human transportation. Segway, as you know, is the funky self-balancing two-wheeled gizmo that rolls itself magically using gyroscopes and small elves inside. Segway is a perfect example of an innovation technology that is ahead of its time — meaning the masses of humanity are simply not ready to adopt it.

Hybrid cars, though, are further along the adoption curve. We all once laughed at the streamlined tin boxes; then, Larry David made the Prius look cool; now, damn, 40 MPG is looking fine. People are starting to wince at the gas pump, and we recently checked in to Honda to find that its part-electric Civic models are nearly sold out in the United States. After hybrids, American driveways are starting to fill with large but slightly efficient “crossover” vehicles, and some of us are still stuck with bloated SUVs.

The point is marketers need to anticipate adoption curves. Customers are not a static target; they are a moving, rolling mass, and the plans you begin today need to touch customers in the right position 1, 2 or 3 years from now. MP3 players are hot but may decline. Traditional theater audiences are aging and young moms are the next ticket sale. $1,000-a-month heating bills will revolutionize home efficiency. The internet has devastated traditional in-home tutoring materials. Consumers are using Google, not physician referrals, to research their own specialists.

Glance over at Segway and you’ll see it’s carefully working up the adoption curve. Marketing in the past few years focused on police and government workers. The recent social media site has an enviro-vibe, and Segway has also begun touching the mainstream with a sweet golfing model.

So: Is your marketing team thinking this way? Or do you spend your planning meetings looking in the rear-view mirror, at what once worked in the 1990s or 1980s? If you don’t look ahead at where customers are moving, you’re going to be left behind.

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