What is Diffusion of Innovations?The term “Diffusion of Innovations” has been thrown around a lot in recent years, and the principles behind it are actually quite important. In this article, we’ll go over the fundamental principles of diffusion of innovations and how this applies to the world of geekery as a whole.

Diffusion of Innovations is a theory originally popularized by Everett M. Rogers in reference to the fields of agriculture and medicine during the 1960s. In many ways, this theory is every bit as relevant today.

It outlines a concept that the majority of the market follows on the recommendation of the early adopters and innovators of the market. Potential adopters of a new technology or innovation are split into several categories including: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Diffusion of Innovations is considered to be a law by many, though it is hardly absolutely consistent. You can take a look at the original paper about Diffusion of Innovations written by Rogers here.

Instead of going into all the different aspects of the theory, let’s take a look at those categories of consumers and see where you (and the people you know) fall on this scale today.

Innovators — 2.5%

Innovators are the folks that conceive and invent the technologies we use today. They’re the builders, crafters, dreamers, and the ones most likely to trust prototypes and alpha products. An innovator makes up 2.5% of the total market. In marketing terms, that’s hardly a blip on the overall target for any mainstream product creator.

Early Adopters — 13.5%

Early adopters are the geeks. They’re the ones you’d see standing in line at a game or gadget release. These folks get the latest and greatest products as they come to market not because it’s easier to be an early adopter, but because they genuinely enjoy having the cutting edge product.

Early Majority — 34%

The early majority makes up the people you know that are probably starting to use Pinterest or Google+ today. They’re the ones that are excited about what’s new, but are willing to wait for the price to drop or a second generation to jump on board.

In the world of gaming, it would be the individual that waited to see what their friends thought about the game before throwing down their own money for it. Hence, the early adopters have a direct impact on whether or not the early majority will latch onto the trend.

Spotify would be an example of a product type that is just now beginning to reach the early majority.

Late Majority — 34%

The late majority includes just about everyone else. Facebook reached its historically high user count because it reached saturation into the late majority field. Your parents are on Facebook, and potentially even your grandparents if they use computers.

Facebook was in its innovators stage during its first days at Harvard, early adopters as it expanded to other college campuses, early majority when it opened its doors to the mass public, and late majority as the world slowly began adopting Facebook as a primary method of reaching out to friend and family online.

What about people that haven’t quite caught on to social media or other similar technologies just yet? This brings us to our final category, the laggards.

Laggards — 16%

Laggards are the folks that just don’t want to hop on board the trends. They’re the folks that still truly believe that the Internet is a fad, and/or that various widely-adopted products just aren’t for them. Just because someone doesn’t own an iPhone doesn’t mean they’re a laggard. iPhones (and other smartphones) are still in the early/late majority phases.

Laggards are the folks you know that are likely still on a landline or a very basic mobile phone. The Internet is just a place to get email from two or three people in their lives that absolutely insist on using it to communicate.

If you can reach this audience, you stand a very big chance of achieving near-100% market saturation. You’ll never reach 100% though. It’s not possible. There will always be someone that doesn’t believe in electricity or plumbing. It’s a fact of life.

A technology currently in the laggards phase would be the digital television. There are folks out there that either don’t own a television (you can add Internet television to that if you’ve already moved on to using a computer as a primary entertainment device) or are still using the analog TV they had two decades ago. It’s true, some people are just laggards for innovation, but that’s their choice to make.

How Does This Apply to Me?

Try to consider this theory when building the foundation for a business and/or product that you’re thinking of producing. How do you break the barrier between the early adopter and the early majority? There’s a tipping point there that’s absolutely vital for any successful business to make, and it’s up to you to determine how to overcome it.

You could apply this theory to virtually any innovation. Innovation, as defined by Rogers in his thesis, is: “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption”.

So, what examples can you think of where a technology is presently breaking through the early adopter group and about to venture into the early majority?

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