Diffusion of Innovations

The crucial elements in the diffusion of new ideas are (1) an innovation, (2) which is communicated through certain channels, (3) over time, (4) among the members of a social system. Rogers continues with the statement that it is element of time that differentiates diffusion from other types of communications research. The goals of the diffusion researcher and the marketer are to shorten the time lag between introduction of an idea or product and its widespread adoption.

Product innovations have a varying rate of acceptance. Some diffuse from introduction to widespread use in a few years; others take decades. Patterns of alcoholic beverage consumption are seen to be converging across Europe only when a 50 year time frame is considered. Microwave ovens, introduced in the United States initially in the 1950s, took nearly 20 years to become widespread; the contraceptive pill was introduced during that same period and gained acceptance in a few years. In the field of education, modern math took only five years to diffuse through US schools whereas the idea of kindergartens took nearly 50 years to gain total acceptance. A growing body of evidence suggests that the understanding of diffusion theory may provide ways in which the process of diffusion can be accelerated. Knowledge of this process may provide the foreign marketer with the ability to assess the time it takes for a product to diffuse – before a financial commitment is necessary. It also focuses the marketer’s attention on features of a product that provoke resistance thereby providing an opportunity to minimize resistance and hasten product acceptance.

At least three extraneous variables affect the rate of diffusion of an object: The degree of perceived newness, the perceived attributes of the innovation, and the method used to communicate the idea. Each variable has a bearing on consumer reaction to a new product and the time needed for acceptance. An understanding of these variables can produce better product strategies for the international marketer.

The more innovative a product is perceived to be, the more difficult it is to gain market acceptance. That is, at fundamental level, innovations can be disruptive. Consider alternative fuel cars in the United States. Although they are popular with consumers, dealers did not appreciate their low maintenance requirements which reduced after sale service revenues. Further the infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel cell cars has been expensive to build. Thus, some suggest that the technology is inappropriate for the US, whereas china without the established infrastructure may be able to leap frog the older gasoline fueled options. Additionally the perception of innovation can often be changed if the marketer understands the perceptual framework of the consumer. This had certainly proved to be the case with the fast global diffusion of Internet use, e-tailing and health and beauty related products and services.

Analyzing the five characteristics of an innovation can assist in determining the rate of acceptance or resistance of the market to a product. A product’s (1) relative advantage (the perceived marginal value of the new product relative to the old); (2) compatibility (its compatibility with acceptable behavior, norms, values, and so forth) (3) complexity (the degree of complexity associated with product use); (4) trialability (the degree of economic and /or social risk associated with product use); and (5) observability (the case with which the product benefits can be communicated) affect the degree of its acceptance or resistance. In general the arte of diffusion can be postulated as positively related to relative advantage compatibility, trialability and observability but negatively related to complexity.

Buy analyzing a product within these five dimensions a marketer can often uncover perceptions held by the market, that if left unchanged would slow product acceptance. Conversely if these perceptions are identified and changed the marketer may be able to accelerated product acceptance.

The evaluator must remember that it is the perception of product characteristics by the potential adopter not the marketers that is crucial to the evaluation. A market analyst’s self reference criterion (SRC) may cause a perceptual bias when interpreting the characteristics of a product. Hs, instead of evaluating product characteristics from the foreign user’s frame of reference the marketer might analyze them from his or her frame of reference leading to a misinterpretation of the product’s cultural importance.

Once the analysis has been made, some of the perceived newness or causes for resistance can be minimized through adroit marketing. The more congruent that product perception are with current cultural values, the less resistance there will be and the more rapid product diffusion or acceptance will be.

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