Hi! Welcome to the blog. I’m Lauren Cochran and I’m glad you’ve joined me. Check back weekly as I’ll be posting my findings here as I take a journey to gain a better understanding of strategic communication and emerging media.
You can find your way back here by bookmarking the link to this page: https://lcochranstrategiccomm.wordpress.com/
My educational background is in journalism. I’ve always been fascinated by how people communicate. Recently I’ve embarked on a new voyage – graduate school, and I have to admit, I really love learning. I strongly feel that when we study communication, we figure out a little bit about ourselves as people.
This week I’ve been doing a more in depth study of Everett Rogers’ text Diffusion of Innovations. This work has become a classic and has been an authority on the topic for years. It’s even had its own re-inventing to include the introduction of the internet in 1990.
Diffusion of Innovations describes every aspect of how an innovation, a perceived newness of an idea, is diffused or communicated through certain channels over time among members of a social system. In short, how new ideas spread and catch fire.
Have you ever noticed an item that no one seemed to be able to resist? Everyone just had to have one. Maybe it was Ugg boots or Patagonia gear or Nike shorts. I have heard my father say a dozen times, “I wish I had thought of that idea.” Obviously in reference to the financial rewards the innovator was reeling in due to the widespread success of their product. What makes those items so irresistible? Why did those particular things become popular and others not make it?
Rogers suggest five attributes of innovation that determine their rate of adoption.
Relative Advantage is Rogers’ first characteristic to affect the speed of the spread. The innovation must be perceived as better than those preceding it. For instance, the initial introduction of the iphone was most likely much more successful than the upgrades to the existing product. When it was introduced, it was original, and in comparison to what was in existence, it had a major relative advantage. The upgrades along the way have added new features, but the advantage has not been as drastic. People can easily talk themselves into believing the current phone they have is fine, since it can do almost everything the new upgrade can.
This characteristic has many elements, one of those being the two types of relative advantages: preventive and incremental. Because preventive innovations take time for the advantage to be proven, the adoption rate is significantly lower. Life insurance is not adopted as quickly as health insurance because of the lack of current benefit. It will benefit the consumer in long term ways and many consumers are just concerned with current issues.
Compatibility is another aspect Rogers’ considers an important aspect in determining the rate of innovation of adoption. Compatibility is the degree to which the innovation is consistent with the ideas and values a person holds. Even past experiences play a role in individuals decisions to accept new ideas. Compatibility is one attribute that can fluctuate greatly within social systems. In some instances, individuals have strong beliefs and ideas that support their decisions and are not open to anything contrary to the commitments they have made. This concept changes dramatically even in geographical locations not so far from each other. We lived in a suburb in Atlanta for a couple years. People could not wait for the next new thing. They thrived on new ideas, change and innovation. Rural small towns in Alabama in contrast, are not as open to change and newness. Traditions are highly regarded and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a commonly spoken mantra.
Complexity might be the one rate of adoption attribute that actually makes me laugh a little. If the innovation is too complex to understand or not “user friendly” it will be slowly adopted if at all. An image comes to mind of me and my sister-in-law in a bathroom in Tennessee trying to figure out how to use a hair tool. My mother-in-law was offering it to us at no cost if we wanted it. After experimenting for several minutes, we decided even a free innovation was not worth it if we couldn’t figure it out. The complexity characteristic is no joke.
Rogers continues the list with Trialability, the degree to which an innovation can be experimented with on a limited basis. This is a great way to sell a product! Once people touch it and use it with no commitment, it’s easier for them to make a well informed decision. It decreases the uncertainty they may have about the innovation. I can’t help but think of the grocery store food sample stations. They let you taste it before you commit to buying. They also have plenty on hand for you to throw a box into your shopping cart.
The last characteristic affecting the rate of an innovation’s adoption is observability. Rogers describes this as the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. Observability is a major factor in the spreading of innovations because social proof is such a powerful principle in persuasion. Our nature as humans in this country is to “keep up with the Jones'” and chase the American dream. We constantly look to others for affirmation, approval and ideas. This is also where opinion leaders come into play. Those we view with much respect, we want to imitate. This is why celebrities are used in advertisements.
The strength of each of these five characteristics help an individual decrease the uncertainty about the innovation, therefore contribute to a faster adoption rate. These five attributes lay the groundwork for the rate of adoption of innovations. If you’ve got an idea you want to spread, stack it up next to these concepts. They prove to provide adequate expectation of where it will land and how quickly it will catch on.
Once again thanks for joining me on this journey. I’ll check back in next week with new observations and perspectives related to my studies.