Diffusion of Innovation

Painting of A Mountain

Painting of A Mountain

The man credited with understanding how people adopt new ideas came from humble beginnings on a farm in Caroll, Iowa. In 1936 a hot dry summer produced a drought that wrecked Iowa’s corn crop. Yet, some farmers had started using a new hybrid seed corn. This new seed not only produced 25% more yield but was also drought resistant. As he watched his father’s crops struggle during that steamy summer, Everett Rogers became intrigued on why their family farm had not adopted the new seed corn. [Source]

This simple and obvious question led Dr. Rogers to uncover some of the most interesting quirks about human beings and their relationship to innovation based on a blend of their personal values, economic status, social standing, and education.

His study of how a radically different idea gets adopted was put out in a landmark study in 1962 in the book, Diffusion of Innovations. Through multiple editions, the book went on to look at over 508 different diffusion studies for nearly 40 years. In particular, Rogers was fascinated by why some people will eagerly adopt a new idea and others baulk despite convincing evidence that it is to their benefit to do so, much like he had witnessed as a boy on his father’s corn farm in Iowa during the Depression.

What he found out was that this phenomenon of resisting adopting new ideas was not confined just to the Midwest. It was rampant in public health education efforts in South America, as evidenced by Amazon villagers not adopting the practice of sanitizing their water by boiling based on cultural taboos.

Synthesizing all these studies over time and cultures, he helped identify a five-step adoption process that holds consistent across vastly different groups. Individuals move through various distinct stages before they will take up a disruptive idea or practice.

From Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations
The five stages of the adoption process are and the ways it relates to digital marketing today include

  1. Knowledge: In this stage the individual is first exposed to an innovation but lacks information about the innovation. During this stage of the process the individual has not been inspired to find more information about the innovation.
    Hint: How can social media drive curiosity?
  2. Persuasion: In this stage the individual is interested in the innovation and actively seeks information/detail about the innovation.
    Hint: How can smart website content on the Google search results page help educate this potential user?
  3. Decision: In this stage the individual takes the concept of the change and weighs the advantages/disadvantages of using the innovation and decides whether to adopt or reject the innovation. Due to the individualistic nature of this stage Rogers notes that it is the most difficult stage to acquire empirical evidence (Rogers 1964, p. 83).
    Hint: How can you make the first digital experiences with the brand enjoyable and useful?
  4. Implementation: In this stage the individual employs the innovation to a varying degree depending on the situation. During this stage the individual determines the usefulness of the innovation and may search for further information about it.
    Hint: How can you build an online community to help new users get up to speed on using your product or service? Can you craft content such as a “Beginner’s Guide with FAQ’s”?
  5. Confirmation: Although the name of this stage may be misleading, in this stage the individual finalizes his/her decision to continue using the innovation and may use the innovation to its fullest potential or abandon it altogether.
    Hint: How can you reassure a user in real-time they made the right decision?

Zero Moment of Truth

As a digital marketer, you have the unique first-time opportunity to touch a consumer across all five steps of this process. Research from Google suggest that customers constantly refer to the search engine throughout their entire buying process and collect sources to help them in their purchase decision. This trend is on the rise with people using 10.4 sources almost double what the used in 2010 (5.4 respectively). [Source]

Thought Experiment: For each of the 5 parts of the process, how might you as a marketer shape the consumer’s decision for purchasing a radically new electric tea kettle? Brainstorm specific ideas around messaging, content, user experience based on the video above.