Why more companies need to foster relationships with early adopters: How Warner got it right, and Microsoft could learn from it

Jun 30, 2012 by

It’s been a crazy couple weeks in the tech world, with iOS6, Microsoft’s Surface tablets, Windows Phone 8, and last week’s Google I/O, there’s a lot that’s changed on the tech landscape in a short amount of time.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you fall into the category of what’s called “early adopters”. You see the latest tech, you immediately start to feel that itch, that desire to immediately jump in with both feet. You might still have that Laser Disc player, your Xbox 360 HD-DVD add on, or your SACD player collecting dust somewhere.

But there’s a secret that too many companies haven’t yet heard: It’s people like us that drive technology buying habits. Would the iPhone have become the phenomenon it is without the early adopters pulling them out and showing them to everyone they saw in the first days after its release? Like me, you might have been driven into the world of HD by watching the Super Bowl on someone else’s early HDTV set.

So why is it that so many companies give the cold shoulder to those that were first to pad their pockets? Is that just the poison pill we have to swallow as first-timers? The knowledge that at some point our original hardware is going to be replaced by something bigger, faster and better? Warner Bros. has a program that’s they called Blu-ray Elite that I think is one that other companies on the cutting edge should look to for inspiration.

It’s my belief that tech companies need to do better at protecting their early adopters. Nothing is worse than losing a one-time advocate because they feel they’ve been ignored once their money was tucked away.

Microsoft was accused of this by some with the announcement of Windows Phone 8 hardware recently. Nokia and Redmond had recently teamed up for a HUGE launch of the Lumia 900 line of Windows Phones, but those phones won’t upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Logically, this makes sense because most of the changes are hardware related (new screen resolutions, NFC, dual-core processors, all things that would be impossible to put on an old device).

However, for those of us that jumped into Windows Phone in the early days, when it was slim pickings for apps and support was floundering, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Apple convinces millions of people to buy new iPhones every year, but somehow escapes the type of scorn that Microsoft got (though there is a big difference between a one-year hardware cycle and a five-month one). Apple, too, may face some scrutiny when it announces the new iPhone in the fall if rumors of a new screen size, a new dock connector and NFC are true. Those with iPhone 4s devices will be left in the cold.

So about Warner’s program. First, full disclosure. I’m a member of Blu-ray elite and as such I received the perks I’m about to talk about here.

Blu-ray Elite is an invitation-only program that Warner started this past winter. They invited a group of people they identified as being Blu-ray fans, influential bloggers, or in some other way met the criteria. Those people then were sent weekly packages of Warner Bros. Blu-rays to Tweet about, write Facebook posts about, post reviews about or in some other way spread the word about Warner Bros. Blu-ray catalog (we reviewed a pair of Blu-ray Elite titles on Seen in HD recently). There is also a contest at the end that members earned entry to by using their social channels to talk about Warner Blu-rays.

Why is this smart? Because Warner found a group of people enthusiastic about Blu-ray and made it a priority to ensure those early adopters were part of their marketing plan, and did it in a way that encouraged the early adopters to keep coming back. Some may look at it as simple bribery, but to the contrary, this is street-level marketing done right.

It’s a brilliant move, one that didn’t cost Warner that much but earned them oodles of credit and free publicity. It also showed early adopters that Warner was making a commitment to them.

Microsoft could earn itself a ton of goodwill by looking to Warner’s program as a model. For people that just bought into Windows Phone, Microsoft should ensure that all of them can move to a Windows Phone 8 device for no more than $50, regardless of contract length, carrier restrictions on new devices, or upgrade fees. If you bought a Lumia 900 you get the next version in the Lumia line with Windows Phone 8 for $50 (or less).

This almost makes too much sense. People like us would jump at the chance to get a high-end phone with a new OS for under $50, and it would flood the marketplace with these new devices all at the same time. Marketing by force. It’s almost the same program as they do for people who buy Windows 7 PCs now, offering to upgrade them to Windows 8 on the cheap.

Early adopters are a tech company’s dream customer. It’s time more and more marketers look to programs like Blu-ray Elite for the right way to treat their most ardent fans.

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