Diffusion of Innovation Process, Elements and Types

Table of Contents:-

  • What is Diffusion of Innovation?
  • Diffusion of Innovation Process
  • Diffusion of Innovation in Consumer Behaviour
  • Elements of diffusion of innovation
  • Types of Diffusion

What is Diffusion of Innovation?

The introduction of a new product to the market usually results in its consumption following a diffusion pattern. The process of diffusion of innovation involves spreading the use of innovation within a market group across different categories of adopters over time. The concept of diffusion of innovation explains how the marketplace usually embraces a product and identifies factors that can impact the rate and extent of adoption. The rate of adoption is dependent on consumer traits, the product, and the company’s marketing efforts.

Consumers become adopters when they make a purchase and utilize the product. Potential adopters go through distinct stages when deciding whether to adopt (purchase) or reject a new product. The affective or emotion-driven model designates these stages as AIDA, signifying attention, interest, desire, and action. Another model (cognitive or driven by thought) uses awareness, information, decision, and action.

The framework for investigating consumer acceptance of new products originates from the research field known as the diffusion of innovation. Researchers in consumer studies focusing on the diffusion of innovations primarily aim to comprehend two closely interconnected processes.

    1. The diffusion process and
    2. The adoption process.

In the broadest sense, diffusion is a macro process concerned with the spread of a new product (an innovation) from its source to the consuming public. In contrast, adoption is a micro-level process that focuses on the various stages through which a consumer goes through when deciding to accept or reject a new product.

Diffusion of Innovation Process

Diffusion refers to the systematic process by which an innovation spreads. It is the spread of a new idea from its source of invention or creation to its ultimate users or adopters. A major difference between the diffusion process and the adoption process lies in their respective scopes. Diffusion mainly takes place among groups or individuals, whereas adoption is primarily an individual matter. The diffusion period is determined by the time elapsed from when the first individual is aware of the innovation until it has reached complete adoption in a given social system.

Three dimensions help characterize the diffusion process:

    1. The rate of diffusion,
    2. The pattern of diffusion, and
    3. The potential penetration level.


The rate of diffusion reflects the speed at which sales transpire over a given period. The diffusion pattern concerns the form of the diffusion curve. The potential penetration level is a separate dimension that signifies the magnitude of a potential market. That is the maximum cumulative sales (or adoption) over time.

Diffusion refers to the systematic communication of an innovation over time through certain channels among the members of a social system. This form of communication is unique as the messages are concerned with new ideas. Communication is a process in which participants create and share information with the ultimate goal of achieving a shared understanding.

Diffusion of Innovation in Consumer Behaviour

According to Rogers, “Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system”.

In other words, the study of the diffusion of innovation entails examining the mechanisms, motivations, and pace at which novel ideas and technologies permeate various cultures. 

Diffusion is a special type of communication that revolves around the dissemination of messages about novel ideas. This newness of the idea in the message content gives diffusion its distinctive character. The presence of newness introduces a degree of uncertainty into the process of diffusion. The perception of uncertainty involves assessing different alternatives for the occurrence of an event and their respective probabilities. Uncertainty implies a lack of predictability, structure, and information. Information is a means of reducing uncertainty. Information is a change in matter-energy that influences uncertainty when there is a choice among a set of alternatives. A technological innovation embodies information thereby reducing uncertainty about cause-effect relationships in problem-solving.

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Elements of diffusion of innovation

The process of effectively communicating an innovation among the members of a social system occurs over time via specific channels. The following section defines the four main elements.

1) Communication Channels

Communication channels facilitate the transmission of messages from one individual to another. The nature of the information exchange relationship between a pair of individuals plays an important role in determining whether a source will transmit an innovation to the receiver, as well as the impact of such a transfer. In addition to mass media and interpersonal communication channels, interactive communication through the Internet has grown exponentially. Diffusion is a highly social process that involves interpersonal relationship and communication.

2) Social System

Diffusion occurs within a social system. The social structure of the system affects the diffusion of innovations in various ways. It constitutes a boundary through which an innovation spreads. The social system can also form a barrier. Marketers make decisions within the social system, which encompasses the physical, cultural, social and political environment; typically, it aligns with the market segment or target market. For example, the social system operates within various occupations or professions, where lawyers discuss cases. Young farmer’s societies organise social events, academics have conferences, and students have student unions.

3) Innovation

It appears as new to an individual or any other unit of adoption, whether it’s an object, practice, or idea. It matters little, so far as human behaviour is concerned, whether or not an idea is objectively new as measured by the lapse of time since its initial use or discovery. The perception of the idea’s novelty by the individual influences their perception of its newness. If an idea seems new and unfamiliar to the individual, it is an innovation.

4) Time

It is another element in the diffusion process. Many other studies in behavioural science dismiss or find no relevance in the time dimension. One of the strengths of diffusion research is its incorporation of time as a variable, though criticism can emerge regarding the measurement of the time dimension, frequently involving respondents’ recall.

The time dimension plays a role in diffusion through the following:

i) Innovativeness is quantified for an individual or another unit of adoption based on the timing of their innovation adoption by other members of the system.

ii) The innovation-decision process by which an individual passes from first knowledge of innovation through its adoption or rejection.

Typically, the rate of adoption of an innovation within a system is quantified by counting the number of system members who adopt the innovation within a specific timeframe.

Types of Diffusion

There are four types of diffusion. These are as follows:

1) Contagious Expansion Diffusion

It occurs when numerous places or people near the point of origin become adopters (or infected, in the case of a disease). Contagious diffusion refers to the rapid, widespread diffusion of a characteristic among the population. Ideas that are spread through contagious diffusion are spread across the population much like the flu. It starts with one person or place and it keeps spreading. Ideas that spread through contagious diffusion originate in densely populated areas, then other cities adopt the idea and it keeps spreading from there. Unlike hierarchical diffusion, everyone picks up on the trend and ideas around the same time causing it to become contagious, like a wave in the crowd it starts from a “centre” or hearth and diffuses out from there to the rest of the population. Contagious diffusion goes along with many ideas that relate to popular culture each year.

2) Hierarchical Expansion Diffusion

It occurs when the diffusion innovation or concept spreads from a place or person of power or high susceptibility to another in a velled pattern. Hierarchical diffusion refers to the process by which an idea is disseminated from persons or nodes of authority or power to other persons or places. The most common method for this is a trend or idea that starts in the urban centre, subsequently followed by other cities after a certain period. This type of diffusion can also be spread by authority figures in a community such as political leaders or socially elite people.

This type of diffusion usually starts in populated regions and gradually spreads to areas with lower population densities. An example of this would be architecture. This is because it may start in certain areas of the world, then someone from that country moves and builds that same style in another area which spreads through the rest of that area and so on. Another example is hip hop and rap. It started from low-income African Americans in urban areas and subsequently spread to other demographics.

3) Relocation Diffusion

It involves the actual movement of the original adopters from their point of origin or homeland to a different location. Relocation diffusion is the spread of an idea through the physical movement of people from one place to another. Also, it is the movement of individuals who carry an idea or innovation with them to a new, perhaps distant locale. This is caused when people migrate from one place to another and bring their unique cultural heritage along with them. This is the cause for many different languages within a single region, such as the United States, can be attributed to various factors. Not only the language is diffused, but religion and ethnicity as well.

4) Stimulus Expansion Diffusion

This occurs when the innovative idea diffuses from its heart outward, but the original idea is changed by the new adopters. Stimulus diffusion is the spread of a fundamental concept, even though a characteristic itself fails to diffuse. It is also, an idea or innovation sparked by an idea that diffused in from another culture. The specific trait may face rejection, but the underlying concept remains accepted. Also, this is when the basic idea or trend is being diffused, but not the exact idea or trend is spread because of the region it spreads to. For example, McDonald’s diffusing to India. This is because Hindus do not eat cows because they believe they are holy, so they replace the meat in the burgers and make them veggie burgers.

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