The 80/20 rule

Justin Beck, VP of Education at Kaltura, explains why we should focus on the majority, not the vocal minority

In the technology sector, we have grown up with the ‘Marketing 101’ technology adoption lifecycle, where the focus is on generating interest in new products and services among the hallowed few – the so-called innovators and early adopters. But are these people really where CIOs of educational institutions should be pitching their wares? Or does satisfying this group’s long list of requirements actually prove to be unproductive for the university masses?

For some education establishments it might not be a wise decision to sign up for the latest bells and whistles that appeal to the few early adopters. Instead of focusing on these outliers, it surely makes more sense to focus on the 80 per cent of your target audience where you can make the greatest impact – what marketers call the early and late majority.

At the start of this academic year I had lunch with the Vice Provost/Chief Information Officer at a large North American university. I will simply call her Judith because her thoughts on university EdTech adoption are quite revealing – and turn traditional marketing thinking on its head. 

The graph above shows the generic technology adoption lifecycle that displays the pattern most tools and systems follow in their acceptance by users. Judith commented that this cycle plays out with each new technology her university introduces.

In Judith’s view this approach is flawed. Her insight, based on numerous technology introductions at her university, indicates that most technology committees and dreaded RFP committees largely comprise of the “techies and visionaries” – the first 10 per cent on the adoption curve.

These Techies and Visionaries naturally resist the standard systems, constantly tinker with technologies, push for extreme use cases, are incredibly vocal and risk alienating those newer to the technology. There is a fine line between these individuals being champions or detractors.

When Judith had her epiphany – that this approach was satisfying only a very narrow group of visionaries and power users who are likely to push the boundaries and vote for the more complex products, services and systems – it opened up a whole new way of thinking about technology adoption in her university. 

When I asked Judith where it makes sense to focus one’s time and effort she responded, without hesitation, that it is much more beneficial to focus on the core 80% of users – the early and late majority. This is who she believes her university’s technology roll-outs need to appeal to – and where they have their greatest impact. 

Put like that, it’s hard to disagree: by focusing on the next 80 per cent rather than the first 10%, you can reach the largest number of staff and students. These people are not looking for revolution, but rather evolution, to improve teaching, learning and operations. 

It’s also far easier to cost-justify toolkits for 80 per cent of your community than to focus significant amount of time and resources on the first 10 per cent and also the last 10 per cent (the laggards) that you are unlikely to satisfy. 

This outlook has crystalized my own thinking. When my organization, Kaltura – a leading provider of video platforms in education –recently launched a new personal video capture tool we did our preliminary market study of features/functions and the urge was go all out from day one with every last possible feature. Twelve video streams? You’ve got it. An advanced image/audio/recognition engine that knows when coffee is ready and pours you a cup? Sure, why not! 

But as we started showing early alpha examples to clients, what got them fired up was a return to simplicity for their “middle” set of users: easy navigation, no complex installers, high quality video showing up in their personal repository and following them across their various portals/systems. It turned out that what they wanted was the basics – done really well. So that’s what we now provide. The response to a simple, easy to use, ‘meets majority of use cases’ application has been tremendous – from clients and prospects alike. 

Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not advocating we need to abandon outlying use cases and users. Those trend setters and advanced users become the standards of tomorrow. But for those of us, CIOs and partner vendors alike, who are trying to implement technologies for academia that will enhance learning, the insight from Judith is a lesson we should all ponder. 

So my unsolicited challenge to all CIOs out there is this: when you are engaging with educators and designing support services and technologies for them, are you focused on the majority, or the very loud, cutting-edge minority that probably do not represent the masses?