May 14, 2009

‘Lead users’ use new products first

Lead users use products before others do, but opinion leaders are more familiar with products than the average person, European researchers say.

Study authors Jan Kratzer of Berlin University of Technology and Christopher Lettl of University of Aarhus in Denmark examined the attitudes and networks of children who are lead users, people who are most likely to develop and disseminate commercially attractive innovations.

Lead users not only develop novel concepts but also use new prototypes and products before others do, the author said in a statement. This study reveals that lead users are positioned as 'boundary spanners' between different social clusters or groups, whereas 'opinion leaders' tended to be influential in more local terms.

The researchers gathered data from 537 students ages 9-11 in nine randomly selected public schools in the Netherlands. The children completed surveys that determined whether they might be lead users or opinion leaders and then completed a matrix to indicate the frequency of contact with classmates.

We think it is important to better understand how consumers actually become lead users, the study authors say. The angle of looking at their social networks proved fruitful.

The findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Research.