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New research from the NPD Group shows that nearly 100 million people (or about half of Internet users) listened to music online in the past three months. No surprise there. Services like Pandora, Spotify and I Heart Radio have all gained loyal followers, and as in the case of Pandora, have even made their way off the desktop and into cars.

Streaming music and movies have been around for some time, and while the technology is getting better, it’s not perfect yet. But it’s also moved beyond the early adopter stage for the most part. In 2004, someone famously made the statement that more homes had outhouses than DVRs. Eight short years later, I can guarantee that this is no longer true. Adoption happens, but how quickly and among which demographics can sometimes be surprising.

The flip side of the adoption of streaming is the ongoing dominance of AM/FM radio. While it’s dropped 4% in the past year, radio remains the primary music source for most people. A more startling (for me anyway) statistic was the change in CDs; online music has taken over second place and pushed CDs down into third. I had no idea CDs were still that popular—I can’t remember the last time I actually bought a CD.

There are a couple of lessons we can take from this:

1. Never assume that what you do or what you are most familiar with constitutes the norm. Research—properly conducted—is the best way to keep up with what’s really going on. If someone had asked me about CDs I would’ve put them into the same category as LPs, but without the purist following. This is true even if you represent the target market; just because you fit the demo, don’t fall into the trap of believing your actions are indicative of the market at large.

2. Even when the path is clear in terms of where consumers are heading, they are bound to get wherever that is at differing rates. From early adopters to technological laggards, there is a broad spectrum of adoption for any new process or product. For retailers, this must be part of any implementation plan so that a large segment of the market isn’t being left out while a small but attractive one is being catered to. A good example of this is the use of QR codes; most research shows that QR codes are only used by young, affluent males.

The bottom line here is that if you haven’t had your thinking challenged lately, or asked others hard questions about how they know what they know, then you probably have bad information. Whether we’re talking QR, LP or CD, before making a commitment for or against it’s a good idea to challenge your own assumptions and be ready to change your thinking accordingly.

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Latest posts by Jeff Weidauer
Jeff Weidauer
Jeff Weidauer is vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom, a provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. With over 30 years of retail experience, Jeff is a prominent speaker, writer and expert source to retailers, brands and media on shopper marketing and the evolving retail industry.
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