By Rahul Guhathakurta
Image Attribute: Photo by Ed Schipul via Flickr Creative Commons license
Consumer innovators are identified on the basis of time elapsed after the launch or as a specific percentage of people out of total purchasers who buy early. They are venturesome, young, highly educated, high social status (online & offline), high-income individuals, who have an interest in new products and seek variety in life. They have low-risk perception and have a positive attitude towards change. Eventually, they are very sociable and in the role of opinion leaders and market mavens, they can be quite influential.
Extensive research has gone into understanding the consumer profile of the five adopter categories of consumer innovativeness, especially, the innovators, who are perceived to be the key to success for an innovation. There is no universally accepted definition of consumer innovators. They are generally described as the "individuals" who are the first ones to adopt an innovation in a social system. Again, there is no clear-cut distinction between consumer innovators and early adopters yet. Therefore, some researchers define "innovators" as the first 2.5 percent of the adopting population, while the some other set of researchers believe them to be as significant as 10 percent of the adopting population. Yet, another set of researchers defines them as individuals who purchase the "innovation" during the introductory phase (first 3 months after launch). There is also a school of thought which defines consumer innovators as the individuals who have more creativity than succeeding following adopter categories because they constantly working on new-to-the-market products and innovate in their leisure time with the application of their own out-of-pocket expenditures. 
Consumer innovators are more interested in the product categories they are first to purchase, than any other adopter class. It means that the consumer innovator in one product category, may or may not be the innovator in another product category. They seek information from the mass media, social media, open source intelligence and a variety of informal channels of information regarding the product of their interest.
Each social system has a structure which determines the direction of diffusion in innovation while the individual behavior determines the speed of adoption. The role of some key individuals within the social system significantly affects the rate of adoption. These individuals are often referred to as opinion leaders.
Some key attributes of opinion leaders are - innovativeness, willingness to share, self-confidence, socially active, having more media exposure. These characteristics are quite similar to those of consumer innovators which suggest that there is a high likelihood of consumer innovators being opinion leaders. 
Research has also identified a special category of opinion leaders, knows as market mavens. These people keep themselves informed about a wide range of product categories, and unlike general opinion leaders, their influence extends beyond high involvement goods alone. Their knowledge on the products and services are not necessarily from the usage experience but from their general knowledge. Their prime personality traits are - capable, fashion-conscious, sociable, and self-confident 
In the role of opinion leaders, consumer innovators can be of great value to marketers of innovations. They will not only be having extreme interest and enthusiasm regarding the innovation, but also considerable influence over a large chunk of the population, which has a direct effect on success or failure of the innovation. The consumer innovator as a market maven, on the other hand, can also be of great importance, not just in few categories of products but due to their greater general knowledge of the marketplace and products as a whole. It's imminent in near future where companies will shift their R&D resources and marketing strategy away from internal development to focus on developing methods to systematically search for promising "consumer innovations", and to give those innovators better and better tools with which to modify their products and share the profit with them if the innovation itself can be successfully commercialize in the later stages.
About the Author:
 When ‘consumer-innovators’ outspend firms on R&D MIT Sloan Management Review October 11, 2011, http://news.mit.edu/2011/smr-consumer-innovator
 Turnbull, P.W. & Meenaghan, A "Diffusion of Innovation and Opinion Leadership", European Journal of Marketing.
 Feick, Lawrence F. & Price, Linda L. "The Market Maven: A Diffuser of Marketplace Information", Journal of Marketing. Vol. 51, Jan 1987, p83-97