von Hippel’s “lead users” vs. Goeffrey Moore’s Visionaries

Michael Osofsky picks up the thread comparing Eric Von Hippel’s “lead users” to Geoffrey Moore’s “visionaries,” and prompts some more reflection on the similarities and differences between the categories of technologyearly adopters.
I suspect that von Hippel’s Lead Users and Moore’s Visionaries are mostly the same people viewed with different perspectives shaped by time and technology.
Moore saw visionaries as “early adopters” — people who are eager consumers of brand new products. von Hippel studies early adopters as innovators — people who not only consume but customize products.
Early adopters have always played a role in customizing products, but they have more opportunities to do so these days. There are more tools available to modify products, ranging from open source software to low-cost CAD and low-volume contract manufacturers.
When Moore first wrote Crossing the Chasm, it was most important to help technology companies to see how different mainstream buyers were from early adopters. A technology provider wishing to hit the big time needed to focus on packaging the product for more mainstream buyers, and to ignore the eccentric preferences of the visionaries.
These days, customer innovation has been democratized, changing the rules of business success. Successful tech companies (like Google, Amazon, Ebay) need to be good both at packaging a service for broad use, and at providing tools for lead user customization.
By moving away from Moore’s understanding of users as eager but passive “consumers” and focusing on the active role played by lead customer innovation, von Hippel reaches several insights that Moore didn’t a decade ago. Many lead user customizations are one-offs which allow a manufactured product access to an application the vendor couldn’t supply cost-effectively. Many other lead user customizations are applicable to a larger class of customers, and vendors can use the signals of end-user customization to lead their next-generation product development efforts.
So, instead of abandoning lead users, von Hippel recommends serving them with customization tools, and adopting popular customer innovations into the manufactured product line.

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