Everett M. Rogers (1931-2004) identified the five factors influencing the adoption of any innovation, and ultimately its degree of success. When assessing the potential for an innovation, whether it is a new product or service, benchmarking the benefits provided by the innovation against the five factors will help identify potential barriers to adoption and areas for improvement.
Research findings have shown that the first three factors, the relative advantage, compatibility and complexity consistently influence the level of innovation adoption. Those technologies that score best on those criteria are likely to reach the highest saturation level among potential adopters.
An innovation will be adopted more widely when it is considered superior to the alternative solution that it replaces. The relative advantage might be measured in economic terms (the new technology is cheaper than the old, or as expensive but more powerful) but it could also be a convenience factor (receiving email is faster than writing letters and going to the post) or a status aspect (“I need this product in order to look cool”). Relative advantage is important because a new product is rarely without alternative, whether it is using digital cameras rather than analogue ones, or watching video on demand rather than renting DVDs from a DVD shop. However, relative advantage is not enough to guarantee fast diffusion speed, and the market abounds of superior technologies that never made it to success, from the Dvorak keyboard to the Betamax or Video 2000 video recorder.
Compatibility measures whether the innovation is consistent with the set of norms, values and other cultural aspects or religious beliefs that predominate in the population. This also includes naming issues: a product wearing the wrong name or the wrong colours in a society that associate special meanings to these attributes has a low level of compatibility.
Complexity is the level to which an innovation is seen as being complex to use in practice, maybe because its user interface is not intuitive, or it requires too many successive steps to be applied, like swallowing pills every hour ten times a day. This is an area where well-thought-out solutions bundling hardware and software like the iPod and the iTunes application can have a real competitive advantage: each component is easy to use on its own and the components have been optimally designed to interact with each other.
Triability is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis. It lowers barriers to entry for customers, especially the late majority. Triability can help convince those who are risk averse and would delay their usage of the technology because they are not sure whether it will satisfy their requirements or be superior to the previous practice. For instance, many telecom service providers provide new services for free in an initial launch phase, for example unlimited mobile TV access, to encourage their subscribers to use the service.
Finally, innovations that have a lower degree of observability will spread more slowly than others, because observable innovations advertise for themselves. These could be innovations used in the home only rather than outside, or innovations that have been allocated more limited shelf space that other products.
According to Rogers, “the five attributes of innovation have been found to explain about half of the variance in innovations’ rate of adoption”. The other half is influenced by:
- the intensity of the promotion efforts, in particular with aggressive marketing campaigns
- the right timing and combination of mass-media and interpersonal channels
- whether the adoption decision is taken individually, collectively by consensus, or authoritatively by the state or a company’s management, as collective decisions are slower to diffuse, and authoritative ones faster.
Additional learning from diffusion research are provided in the book “Business Planning for Managers and Entrepreneurs”, including:
- the impact of mass-media versus interpersonal communication
- network externality effect for interactive innovation
- benchmarks for the time to critical mass and characteristic duration
- cross-country comparison: similarities and differences
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