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InfoQ Homepage Articles Applying the “Whole Product Model” to the “Technology Adoption Life Cycle”
May 17, 2021 15 min read
Sebastian Straube
reviewed by
Ben Linders
One of the biggest mistakes that we see product managers make is that they often focus exclusively on their product’s features as opposed to on the customer problem to solve. In order to develop products customer love, product managers need to truly understand how their "whole product" delivers value and when to address which customer segment, meaning focusing on the right problems for the right customer at the right point in time.
There are two models that are very powerful when applied together, and that a product manager can use to develop extraordinary products:
One of the most useful product marketing constructs in all of high-tech marketing is the concept of a "Whole Product" [1]. The concept is not new; actually it was developed by Theodore Levitt more than four decades ago, but is still powerful in today’s high-tech markets.
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The concept is very straightforward: there is a gap between the marketing promise made to the customer – the compelling value proposition – and the ability of the shipped product to fulfill that promise.
Nowadays I would rephrase the gap as follows: there is a gap between the promised solution of a customer problem or customer job and the shipped product.
To overcome that gap, the product must be augmented by a variety of services and ancillary products to become the "Whole Product".
The formal model, as defined by Levitt, identifies four different levels of whole product completeness (see figure 1):

Figure 1: The Whole Product Model
We can see the Whole Product Model applied for the Apple iPhone in figure 2:

Figure 2: The Whole Product Model Applied
As can be seen in figure 3, the Technology Adoption Life Cycle [2] has a bell curve and the divisions in the curve are roughly equivalent to where standard deviations would fall. This means that Tech Enthusiasts make up about 2.5% of the total population, the Visionaries about 13.5%, the Pragmatists and the Conservatives both 34% and the Skeptics the remaining 16%. Each group represents a unique psychographic profile (i.e. a combination of psychological and demographic traits) that makes its marketing responses different from those of the other groups. By understanding the differences of these groups, product managers and product marketers are better able to target each of these consumer segments after another, each with the right marketing techniques.
The five groups are defined as the following:
The early market, made up by the Tech Enthusiasts and the Visionaries, requires an entrepreneurial company with a breakthrough technology product that enables a new and compelling application, a Tech Enthusiast who can evaluate and appreciate the superiority of the product over current alternatives, and a well-financed Visionary who can predict an order-of-magnitude improvement from implementing the new application.
Between every adopter group in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle (figure 3), you can see a gap. This gap between segments indicates the "credibility gap" that arises from seeking to use the group on the left as a reference base for the group on the right. This gap exists because consumers prefer to trust references from people who belong to their own adopter segment. This creates a challenging dilemma, since you cannot use people as a reference group if they haven’t bought from you yet! The gap is widest between the Visionaries and the Pragmatists. These groups differ from each other in such a way that using one as a reference base for the other is highly ineffective. This gap is called "the Chasm". Since the leap from the Visionaries to the Pragmatists means the transition from the Early Market to the Mainstream Market, crossing the chasm is of utmost importance in order to truly achieve market success with a newly launched product.
The mainstream markets in high-tech look very similar to mainstream markets in any other industry. The market is driven by the Pragmatists; winning their support is the key to long-term dominance. Pragmatists are industry experts and trust your product only if you can prove relevant references in their industry and position yourself as someone who understands the industry.
Furthermore, you should make sure that your product offers a complete solution and that service levels are high ("Whole Product Model"). The user experience Pragmatists have with your product will ultimately decide whether they will delight their peers as well. Once you have established a strong word-of-mouth reputation with the Pragmatists, you have crossed the chasm properly.

Figure 3: Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Let’s have a closer look at how both models can be applied together:

Figure 4: Both Models Applied Together [3]
If we consider the Technology Adoption Life Cycle as a whole, we can generalize that the outer circles of the "Whole Product" increase in importance as we move from left to right. That is, the customers least in need of "Whole Product" support are Technology Enthusiasts, as they adopt any new technology just for the sake of the technology. To cross into the mainstream market, you have to address the Pragmatists. This segment wants the "Whole Product" to be readily available from the outset.
What’s in it for us product managers? Applying both models in a combined way gives us guardrails for our product strategy. Let’s have a look on some helpful suggestions underpinned by a case study of developing and launching a "Lifestyle Companion Mobile App":
Both models are valuable for any product manager developing and marketing products in the digital age. The Whole Product Model helps me to think about the promise I make to the customer, her whole experience, and supports me in deriving an inspiring product vision.
The Technology Adoption Life Cycle ensures focus by limiting the number of segments I target at a given point in time. I can derive personas with different psychographics and characteristics for all of the different segments and use them for generating ideas for product development, prioritizing the product backlog and testing promising ideas.
The combination of both models leads to several guardrails that I need to incorporate in my product strategy, e.g., investing in customer service to attract the Conservatives.
[1]    Levitt, Theodore. Marketing Success Through Differentiation – of Anything. Harvard Business Review, January, 1980.
[2]    Moore, Geoffrey. Crossing the Chasm – Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. Harper Business, 1991.
[3]    A primer on the Whole Product Model – Ravi Kumar
Sebastian Straube started his career as a consultant focusing on digital transformation and digital strategy. Then he was eager to actually execute the strategies and build real products. Thus, Sebastian became a product manager developing mainly eCommerce applications and innovative mobile apps. Building on that experience, Sebastian wanted to bring his passion for product development to other teams. Now he is a product management & discovery coach at Accenture | SolutionsIQ and helps clients build empowered product teams that develop extraordinary products. His focus lies on product visioning, product strategy, and product discovery.

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Published On: March 15, 2022 / Categories: Uncategorized /

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