This is the second article in the series “Innovation Without Adoption Is Simply an Academic Exercise.”

Of the five stages to accelerate the pace and breadth of adoption, “knowledge” is probably the most important. Helping the target audience fully understand your offering and its value provides the foundation for the remaining four stages of persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. The challenge is that you must get this stage right, otherwise adoption will flounder.

The first step is to succinctly articulate your offering. Today’s innovations are sometimes very advanced or complex, so this isn’t always an easy task. In the case of 3D printing, the industry had a well-known example that it could build upon – the office laser printer. Many early works described a 3D printer as similar to a laser printer, except that it keeps going back and forth to slowly build up the print material. This analogy helped people better understand what 3D printing was.

That doesn’t easily work with innovations that are complex, such as the internet of things (IoT). One hurdle is that there are so many elements and IoT means different things to people in different industries. Many conversations about IoT fail to connect because a common understanding isn’t first established. Another hurdle is that the technology is often sophisticated and difficult to comprehend.

Overcoming these challenges to establish knowledge of your offering requires that you identify your target audiences. What industries are they in? What are their demographics? What type of job do they perform? Being able to answer these and similar questions yields insights to help you better tailor your message and thereby increase knowledge.

For instance, explaining an innovation to a senior executive would likely be very different than to an accountant or someone on a production line. The greatest adoption successes tailor the message for each audience, using language and examples that best resonate with each person in the target audience.

You also must articulate the offering’s value to each audience group. Many people assume the value will be obvious, but that’s a mistake. Clearly articulating the value reduces the chance for misinterpretation and shortens the adoption cycle.

There are some obvious questions to answer, such as will it help the audience save or make money? Will it increase a company’s competitive advantage? While these are good values for an organization, don’t forget to identify the value to individuals. Will it help them reduce their workload? Will it make them look good and better position them for a promotion?

A good example is a Fortune 1000 company that had spent considerable time and money developing a downstream procurement tool for its supply chain. The value the company offered to motivate use of this tool was a discount off the product price. That certainly appealed to its customers’ senior executives, so a large percentage had their buyers register. After some period, there was little actual use of the program.

The company asked me to help them understand why, so I visited a number of their customers. While the product discount appealed to the executives, it wasn’t motivation enough for the buyers, who thought this would simply add more work. In this case, both the senior executives and the buyers had to adopt this solution for it to succeed.

In the course of my investigation, I learned that the burden of expanding regulations meant that a purchase order that used to take 45 minutes to complete was now taking hours. The result was buyers were working nights and weekends to keep up.

This insight led us to develop a value proposition targeted specifically to the buyers. We explained that using this new supply chain tool would reduce their effort by 75%, allowing them to get home in time for dinner with the family. Adoption took off from there, illustrating the need to tailor messages to each audience.

The key to success is getting those insights directly from the target audience. Too often, companies rely on their sales people, distributors or even consultants to be a proxy voice for their target audiences. To be most effective, this insight needs to come directly from the target audiences in the form of qualitative and quantitative research.

This takes some effort and typically requires the special skills of someone who knows how to elicit such information. When done well, these insights create a very solid foundation for educating your target audiences on what is your innovation and why it’s important to them. (We’ll discuss more about the specific kinds of insight needed in a later article.)

Now that you have the information to explain your innovation, how do you best reach and deliver it to your target audience? Look for that answer in part two of this article.

Chris Peters is the CEO of The Lucrum Group, an Annapolis-based consultancy focused on enabling the advanced manufacturing enterprise. Chris has developed manufacturing supply chain hubs in more than 20 industries worldwide. Much of that success was based on the ability to drive and accelerate adoption. His work has been documented in several books and in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to BusinessWeek and IndustryWeek.


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