Lead Users

Posted in Marketing and Strategy Terms, Total Reads: 633
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Definition: Lead Users

Lead users are early adopters of new products, services and technologies, who experience needs that are unknown to the general public. These needs will be common in a marketplace, but they are faced by lead users months or years in advance of the bulk of consumers in the market. They are positioned in such a way that they will be benefitted if a solution is obtained for their needs.


Lead users provide significant prospects for the introduction of innovative products and technologies. So, they are considered as a type of the ‘creative consumers’ phenomenon, which pertains to consumers who adapt to, modify, or transform a proprietary offering.


Following are examples of lead users for different platforms:

• Nutritional innovations: Astronauts are unique “lead users” for product innovations in space.

• Commercial innovations: Brake manufacturing, aerospace, cold storage, meat and ice-cream exporters, etc.


Today, the “lead user” method is a popular tool for market research which can be used by people or organisations seeking to develop breakthrough products. It was originally introduced by Dr. Eric von Hippel in 1986. The four major steps involved in this methodology are:

1. Start of the lead user process

2. Identification of needs and trends

3. Identification of lead users and interviews: Lead users should be at the leading edge of the trend being studied and should display correlates of high expected benefit from solutions to related needs. They can be identified by databank analyses, surveys or personal interviews, the networking approach, or using online tools (such as Yenta, IDOL, Xpert-finder). Pioneers are often well known in industrial markets, but it is difficult to find them in consumer markets.

4. Concept design (workshop): By using the data gathered from the lead users, companies identify new approaches towards creating breakthrough products via ideas that may not have surfaced just by examining existing consumers using traditional market research techniques.


The following picture shows where the role of lead users is in the product-life cycle:



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