Rogers’ Theory of Diffusion of Innovations

Innovations and Diffusion

We all have heard about how inventions and innovations have changed the world and transformed the industry landscape and revolutionized the way in which technology is used to further material gain and benefit humanity.

The examples of the Personal Computer or the PC that transformed the way in which offices work and the iPhone that was well and truly a game changer in the way in which it resulted in the Smartphone becoming an all purpose computing assistant means that innovations and inventions have the potential to rejuvenate our lives and make it easier to leverage technology for material progress.

Having said that, it must also be noted that no innovation can succeed if there are no users or consumers who would be willing to try them out and spread the message about their benefits to other consumers.

Example of iPhone

For instance, when the iPhone was launched, Apple and the late legendary Steve Jobs were banking on the existing customer base for Apple products to try out the new gadget and ensure its marketability to a wider range of consumers.

Similarly, when Facebook was launched, it was intended to cater to an early adopter segment of college graduates and students who would then become the informal and unofficial brand ambassadors for the product.

Rogers’ Theory of Diffusion of Innovations

The thinking or the idea behind a small group of innovators who would try out the new products and then a significant body of users would then adopt the same followed by ever increasing numbers of consumers who would then ensure that the product is a commercial success is the theory of diffusion of innovations proposed by Everett Rogers would provide a conceptual basis for the discussion here.

Rogers Theory of Diffusion of Innovations

Source: www.openabm.org

According to Rogers, a tiny segment of users known as Innovators are the initial user segment that would be followed by the early adopters and these to user segments between them would ensure that the innovators receive feedback about their inventions before the mega commercial launches are done.

Beta Testing and Beta Release

Indeed, this is called the Beta Testing and Beta Release phase wherein innovations such as Gmail, Facebook, and the iPhone have relied upon the innovators and the early adopters to drive their initial sales and become bedrock for future growth.

In case you need to understand how innovations are diffused in detail, take a look at the figure above which depicts in a pictorial and graphic form the spread of innovations from initial beta launches and “testing the waters” to fully fledged and large scale commercial adoption and eventual success in the marketplace.

Indeed, imagine that a new movie is released and you are in two minds about whether to book the first show or wait for the initial feedback and reviews. The early feedback and reviews from the initial moviegoers would indeed influence your decision about watching it and hence, it can be said that except for the innovators and the early adopters, the feedback and the reviews would definitely be a decision point influencers for the early and the late majorities.

Similarly, there needs to be an ecosystem in place for any innovation in the markets in which they are released for the product to catch on and become a household name.

For instance, both Unilever and Proctor and Gamble that are well respected FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) giants often release new products and new brands in select cities and select markets where the initial user base and their reactions and acceptability would determine to a large extent as to whether the brand or the product would be a success once it is launched nationwide.

Existence of a Market for Diffusion of Innovations

Continuing on the point made above, the eCommerce sector in India is now at a stage where massive discounts are being offered to consumers to lure and entice them to become loyal and returning consumers who would become the diffusers and the adopters of the portals over a longer timeframe. Indeed, as Rogers explains, there is also a distinction between diffusion and adoption wherein adoption denotes how the consumers start to use the innovations on an individual basis which soon becomes a group phenomenon wherein the “herd” mentality takes over and the innovations diffuse to a larger segment of consumers.

Thus, what we have here is a process of the innovations starting with initial user segments and proceeding to wider acceptance and mass adoption that soon pave the way for the innovation to become a truly success story wherein it becomes a household word. In other words, innovations are adopted and diffused by stages of consumer adoptions and diffusions processes that start small and soon spread to the entire consumer segment. As the examples cited so far indicate, any innovation needs the existence of the “early birds” who are eager to try out the new products and once the innovations hold their ground, soon it becomes a torrent and a wave of acceptability among the consumers.

Finally, as has been mentioned earlier, for innovations to succeed, the product or the innovation must be superlative and at the same time, there needs to be a market or a consumer base that is willing and has the necessary purchasing power to try out the new products. Indeed, unless the market is ready to adopt, diffuse, and absorb the new products, innovations tend to remain stuck and this is the reason why most new gadgets and products are released in developed markets in the West before they are launched in Asia.


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