Theory of Diffusion

Consider the case of Hawkins Instamatic – the anti-pressure cooker concept which offered the benefit of freedom to the housewife from her kitchen. In normal cooking, she would prepare the masala ( a paste containing coriander, tumeric, chilli, onion if required, tomato and other similar ingredients) fry the vegetable and steam or pressure cook it for the specified time. This demanded her physical presence in the kitchen. This became all the more taxing in the morning when she had to prepare food for her children and husband and herself and also provide breakfast to them.

The problem was aggravated if she too was working. So, Hawkins offered this product to her, where she could just leave the food in instamatic, plug it and by morning the food would be ready. Despite a significant time advantage and freedom the product offered, it failed. Our research showed that the housewife or working woman did not perceive any specific advantage. In a typical response, one of the customers had this to say, “If I have peeled and cut the vegetables and fried them, how much time does it take to cook — just 10 minutes at best?

The real time taken in cooking Indian food is the preparation time, i.e. time taken before it is put in the pressure cooker. Further, she felt the cost of Rs. 900 was too high. As she said, “I may love it but definitely hate to buy it’. Thus, Instamatic failed in 1985 despite offering benefits, Culture, social and cost factors all contributed to its failure and subsequent withdrawal.

The marketing literature today suggests that new product ideas or innovation take time to diffuse and get adopted in the market place. The pace at which they diffuse differ from one market to another depending on factors like the extent to which an economy is open to new products, media, transportation, warehousing and distribution network.

The theory and the process of diffusion of new products / innovations were first propounded by Everett M Rogers. According to this theory, people differ in terms of their risk-taking and attitude towards change. This affects their willingness to try and adopt a new product. Based on these two parameters and the time they take to try a new product, customers can be grouped as following:

1. Innovators
2. Early Adopters.
3. Early Majority.
4. Late Majority.
5. Laggard.

It is important to understand the attributes of these adopters and also how the process works in any markets.

Innovators: Innovators in any product market situation are 2.5% of the total market. These individuals are high on risk-taking and hence more to change.’ They are more aware and are perceived as opinion leaders in the market. In fact, they hold the same opinion about themselves. Others look upon them for guidance and recommendation. They are brand switchers. Once the innovators have bought the new product or brand and feel satisfied, they talk it out to their friends, neighbors and relatives and peer groups.

Early Adopters: Immediately next to buy the new product are early adopters who constitute 13.5% of the total market. They have the same characteristics as innovators but take a little more time to buy and adopt the new product than innovators.

Early majority and late majority:

This constitutes 68% of the market and therefore represents a significant proportional of the market. These customers wait for positive recommendations from innovators and early who are perceived as opinion leaders by them. They are moderate on risk-taking.

Laggards: These constitute 16% of the total market and have high resistance to change. They are averse to risk-taking and until it is 100% safe to use the product, they generally do not buy it. They are loyal to their existing brands and products.

The marketer needs to understand these characteristics of the target market and accordingly plan communication strategy for each of these groups.

Other factors contributing to the success of a new product are costs, risk and uncertainty, scientific credibility and social and cultural acceptance.

Today the same issues confront microwave oven marketers. Unlike the West, Indian food habits are different and no microwave cooking can help make food that an average Indian family is used to. The only advantage seen in a microwave oven are preparing tea, rice cooking or where baking is required. The marketer has to research all these factors; otherwise new product will run a much higher risk of failure.