The concept of “diffusion of innovation”

According to Rogers, the diffusion of innovations is “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.”To understand that definition you must first understand some key terms. Innovation is used more generally here to mean an item, thought, or process that is new. Good examples of innovation would be automobiles, brain surgery, and a new kind of running shoe. It is important to realize that something can be an innovation in one place and have already been accepted in another. The other key term in the definition is diffusion. Diffusion is the process by which innovations spread from one locale or one social group to another. People do not just welcome into their homes every innovation that is put in front of them. Every person reacts differently in the ways that they hear about, understand, and finally accept or do not accept an innovation. Before we dive right into the process of diffusion of innovations it is important to take a look at where the research and theories began.


With this huge increase in interest on the subject diffusion research was being done globally. At this point researchers saw similarities in all of the studies being done in different fields and realized that it is one basic communication process. With all of this research going on it made logical sense for marketing agencies to begin their own studies involving adoption and diffusion of new products. These studies have continued on through the past few decades answering many questions about the diffusion of innovation process as well as coming up with new questions to be answered in the future.

Elements of diffusion

There are four main elements to the diffusion of innovations: (1) the innovation, (2) its communication, (3) in a social system, (4) over a period of time.

  • Innovation – any item, thought, or process that is viewed to be new by the consumer
  • Communication – the process of the new idea traveling from one person to another or from one channel to the individual.
  • Social System – the group of individuals that together complete a specific goal (adoption)
  • Time – how long it takes for the group to adopt an innovation as well as the rate of adoption for individual


When studying the diffusion of innovations it is important to understand that you are not just looking at the spread of an innovation through a society but rather the spread of different kinds of innovations through a society. As stated earlier, an innovation is an item, thought, or process that is new to a certain area but not necessarily to the world. There are three main types of innovations that are diffused in different ways.

  • Continuous Innovation: This type of innovation is a simple changing or improving of an already existing product where the adopter still uses the product in the same fashion as they had before. An example of a continuous innovation is now seen in the automobile industry as it continues to change and develop.
  • Dynamically Continuous Innovation: Here the innovation can either be a creation of a new product or a radical change to an existing one. Here the consumption patterns of people are altered some. An example of this type of innovation would be compact discs.
  • Discontinuous Innovation: This is a totally new product in the market. This is the big idea innovation. In this situation, because the product has never been seen before, there are total changes to consumers buying and using patterns.

After discussing the three types of innovations natural progression moves us straight to the next topic of the five different characteristics if innovations. Each characteristic effect the rate of adoption of a innovation differently. Like a lot of things in life, the innovation does not have to be better or easier to use than the product it is competing with but only be perceived to be better or easier to use by the consumer. This idea of perception is stronger than information is seen throughout the advertising world.

  • Relative Advantage: This characteristic expresses to what extent the new product is better than the one it is replacing. Of course the first thought would be greater profit potential. Although profit does fit into the equation, relative advantage can be judged on other factors like ease of use and storage as well .
  • Compatibility: No matter how superior or efficient an innovation is it will not be successful if it does not take into consideration local values and customs of the adopters. Compatibility is the level of which an innovation fits into the specific society. The smoother the innovation fits into the culture, the faster the rate of adoption. The diffusion of certain types of birth control pills in certain areas is unattainable due to religious beliefs and cultural values.
  • Complexity: This type of innovation is the extent of how difficult it is for an adopter to understand and use an innovation. It is very logical to think that the harder an innovation is to use, or at least perceived to use, the less likely that an adopter would be to consume it. A contemporary example would be the Internet. Although the Internet is easy to use, for someone who has never been on a computer it is extremely intimidating.
  • Divisibility: This refers to the ability of the consumer to give the innovation a test run before deciding whether to adopt it or not. Being able to try out a product before purchase helps increase the rate of adoption drastically.
  • Communicability: This characteristic is simply stated as the idea that when an innovations benefit does not directly or immediately solve or fix a consumers problem or need it will not diffuse through a society as quickly compared to an innovation that is more of solution to a problem. A fictional example that helps understand this principle would be a new drug on the market that you would take everyday to ward off headaches before they come. Although the drug may work, because the results do not fit into our first problem then solution ideal, it would take more time for it to be adopted.

It is important to note that these five characteristics are not the only ones that affect the rate of adoption. Also the adoption of an innovation is not always a positive occurrence. Over-adoption, where adopters act irrationally without all the information or without full comprehension of an innovation can actually be harmful to the diffusion process.

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