The Diffusion of Innovation Theory

The diffusion of innovation (DOI) theory was developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, and is one of the oldest theories in social science. Rogers popularized the use of this theory in order to explain how over time an idea or product gains momentum and grows in use and popularity amongst a specific population.

The theory shines light on to how people ultimately adopt a new idea, behavior, or product. In the context of the theory, adoption means that a person experiences a point of change, after which they do something differently than how they did it previously. 

That being said, when the diffusion of innovation theory is applied to marketing and business, adoption often refers to the purchasing of a new product. 

The DOI theory, and the adoption theories that coincide with it, are most useful when applied to new product launches. While it can also be useful when considering taking an existing product to a new market, the theory’s application is more effective when the product or service at hand is an entirely new concept.

The 5 Adopter Categories in Diffusion of Innovation

The adoption of a new product or innovation doesn’t typically happen overnight or simultaneously amongst a population.

Instead, the diffusion of adoption is a process in which some people adopt new innovations more quickly than others. 

The rate at which people adopt a new innovation can tell us a lot about them. 

Diffusion of innovation theory suggests that people who adopt an innovation early on in the diffusion model will possess different characteristics and attributes than the people that are slower to adopt the innovation. The insight that the model provides impacts how these characteristics are being addressed in marketing messaging and product positioning. 

Because these different groups of people possess different characteristics, when promoting a new product to a target population it’s important to understand which characteristics that target population is likely to possess. 

By doing so, you can provide messaging that resonates with that segment of people and focuses on their specific adoption characteristics in order to increase the chance of them purchasing your product.  

Based on the rate at which someone adopts to a product, they are categorized into one of the five adopter categories outlined below.  

Although the same product is being marketed to people from different categories, the marketing strategies for each category will look and feel different. Knowing where most of your target audience falls will signal their key adoption motivators -- insights that help drive how the product is marketed toward them. 

1. Innovators

Innovators are the small group of people that consistently explore new ideas and technology products. These are the people that are responsible for the creation of products that will then go through diffusion of adoption.

2. Early Adopters

Early adopters can also be thought of as opinion leaders or influencers. They are open minded to change, and often share positive testimonials about innovations that have left them satisfied, as well as feedback in regard to how new products could be improved.

3. Early Majority

People that fall in the early majority category of adoption are essentially followers of the early adopters. They take the opinions of the early adopters to heart, and therefore are likely to perform behaviors such as reading reviews prior to purchasing a product. 

4. Late Majority

People in the late majority category of adoption are the skeptical ones who aren’t very familiar or comfortable with change. Oftentimes, those in the late majority category only adopt new products or innovations when the pressure from those around them makes them feel as if they would be left behind if they don’t adopt the innovation as well.

5. Laggards

Laggards are the people that only adopt new products when there is no alternative to doing so. They’re the most conservative of the bunch and often are persuaded to adopt by facts found through their own research and reading reviews. Another common motivator for this group is the pressure felt the other adopter groups.

The 5 Factors that Influence The Adoption of an Innovation 

There are five main factors that influence the rate at which an innovation is adopted. 

Each of these factors hold different levels of influence in the five adopter categories outlined above.

1. Relative Advantage

Relative advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the product or idea that it replaces.

2. Compatibility

Compatibility refers to how consistent the innovation is with the values, needs, and desires of the population that will consider adopting it.

3. Complexity

Here complexity refers to how difficult the innovation is to use. 

4. Trialability 

Trialability is the extent to which the innovation can be tested or previewed prior to adoption. 

5. Observability

Observability is the extent to which the innovation can create tangible results that can then be measured.

How Can The Diffusion of Innovation Model Be Applied to Marketing?

As mentioned previously, it’s best to consider the DOI model when bringing an entirely new product to market, but it can also be used when bringing existing products to new markets. 

For the sake of example, let’s say that an established software company is rolling out a new product.

Let’s take a look at how each of the adopter categories described above can be targeted using different strategies to promote the product and achieve high rates of adoption. 

In order to target Innovators, it would make sense to promote the new software on popular tech websites and media outlets. Displaying promotional marketing collateral on these sites will put the product in the light of already having been adopted by key stakeholders in tech.

Early Adopters could be targeted by creating case studies in which like-minded people are describing their experiences with the new product. This will ensure these early adopters that they aren’t the ones doing the preliminary trials of the product, and that people are already using and finding success with the new product.

To have the most success with people in the Early Majority category of adoption, it would make sense to get granular with the market collateral that drives the promotion of the new product. Things like ‘how to’ videos, and blog posts describing the product and the experiences it provides would serve well here.

Reviews are the key to engaging the Late Majority category. The more reviews you can collect and promote on different platforms, the more comfortable these folks will feel since they will start to feel like they are missing the train.

When it comes to Laggards, not much is under your control in terms of inspiring them to adopt. It’s a better idea to focus on targeting people in the other categories of adoption, and letting the process run its course until the laggards are on board.


Do you consciously target the different categories of adopters in the promotion marketing surrounding new products? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. Feel free to drop us a line in the comments below!