Categories of Adopters in the Diffusion Process of Innovations Identified by Everett Rogers

Categories of Adopters in the Diffusion Process of Innovations Identified by Everett Rogers

People in a social system differ with respect to innovativeness and the manner in which they respond to innovation. In other words, the potential adopters of a new product or service category do not adopt it simultaneously at the same time. The process occurs over time, and based on one’s ‘innovativeness’ (i.e., willingness and readiness) to try out new products and services and the time taken to adopt an innovation, the various adopters can be grouped into five adopters categories. So, the classification of people into adopter categories is based on the relative time to adopt an innovation.

Innovativeness is always ‘relative’ in the sense that a person may be high or low on it when compared to others in the social system. The premise of the categorization is that people in a target market differ from one another with respect of their initial exposure to a new product and its final adoption.

So some people are fast in the adoption of innovation, while others are slow and some lag behind. Researchers have classified consumers into adopter and non- adopter categories, which range from two to five. It is worth mentioning here that the consumers are classified based on the nature of the good or service as well their willingness and readiness to innovate.

The adopter categories illustrate a classification scheme amongst members of the target segment(s), which illustrates where one consumer stands in relation to another consumer with respect to time, which has elapsed between the introduction of the new good and service and the adoption by a consumer(s). Everett Rogers in his famous book, Diffusion of innovation, published in 1962, proposed a classification of adopter categories.

Rogers proposed that based on people’s willingness to try out new products and services (innovativeness) and time taken by them in adopting new products (how quick or slow one is compared to others), potential adopters can be classified into five adopter categories.

According to Rogers, the adoption of an innovation follows a normal, bell-shaped distribution curve. Based on the meantime of adoption (t) and its standard deviation (σ), the non-cumulative rate of adoption and adopter distribution can be plotted as normal adopter distribution to form of a bell-shaped curve. The adapters are classified into five adopter categories based on the mean and standard deviation.

These five adopter categories are:

i. Innovators,

ii. Early adopters,

iii. Early majority,

iv. Late majority, and

v. Laggards.

i. Innovators (Venturesome):

Innovators are those consumers who are the first to go and purchase a new good or service offering, and they comprise 2.5 per cent of the target market(s) adopters. They are the first ones to buy, not because they possess a need or want, but because they desire new ideas and concepts, and so seek product and service innovations.

They are eager and enthusiastic by nature, and continually willing to try new things, irrespective of price. They buy innovative products because these products are new and different. As the term implies, innovators have the greatest degree of innovativeness and are the first to own and adopt new products.

Innovators are younger by age, sound on financial resources, and higher in social status. They are generally high in awareness, knowledge, and literacy levels. They are well informed, have access to credible sources of information about innovative offerings, and are quick to purchase them; there are two reasons for their purchase – one, because they have the interest and inclination to buy the ‘new’, and two because they have the purchasing power and the access.

Innovators are cosmopolitan, social, and gregarious by nature. They are extroverts and share information with social networks that stretch beyond geographic boundaries.

Innovators are venturesome and adventurous, open-minded, and less dogmatic. They are novelty seekers and desire new ideas and concepts; hence, they seek product and service innovations. They are high on need for uniqueness and desire higher OSLs. Further, they are low on brand loyalty and are always on the lookout for new products. Because they are financially well off, they have a high tolerance for risk and ambiguity and are ready to take risks with respect to buying out the ‘new’.

Innovators are also high on self-confidence and are always eager to try out new goods and services. They are inner-directed and rely on their own values and judgment. They seek information from a variety of mass media sources. Their media habits include reading special-interest magazines, watching special-interest programs on TV, and accessing specific websites related to the product category, and they are a variety of novelty seekers.

It is important to mention here that innovators are not ‘generic’. They are in most cases ‘specific’ to a good and service type, and are heavy users of the good and service category in which they innovate.

Innovators buy things because they are new and they want to be amongst the first to try new things irrespective of the uncertainty and the consequences. Further, while they are the first to buy and try new things, innovators are not as influential as the next adopter category, that is, the early adopters, who are second amongst the category of adopters.

Early adopters contribute a lot to WOM communication and are better skilled to convince others to try and buy new things. Nonetheless, innovators play an important role as they introduce into the social system a new idea, product, or practice. In this way, they play the role of gatekeepers and help new ideas and products flow into a social system.

ii. Early Adopters (Respectable):

The next 13.5 percent of the target market(s) adopters are called early adopters. Early adopters are also enthusiastic about trying and using new goods and services, but they are pragmatic and rational. They look at the pros and cons and then rationalize their decision-making. They buy the ‘new’ because they feel that it is better and offers more value. They are more confident about their purchases. Early adopters adopt the innovation just before the average member of a social system.

Early adopters buy the ‘new’ good and service offering not because they are fascinated by the ‘new’, but because they possess a need and want. They are quick to understand the value of innovation, in terms of the needed benefits, and are concerned with both usability and sociability.

Like innovators, early adopters are younger by age, with high social status, high knowledge, and literacy levels. They are less prosperous than innovators, but more than the early majority. Early adopters are more socially directed and rely on the group’s values and norms. They are well integrated and enjoy an important position in their social contagion.

They are social and gregarious, popular amongst their social circle, and act as community leaders. They are more localite, but cosmopolite as well, in contrast to innovators who are cosmopolitan. They are also trendsetters and like to share their experiences with the early majority.

Early adopters are enthusiastic about innovation but are more cautious about their decisions. They generally tend to have some idea about the good/service category, and after gathering some more information about the product and or brand, they go in for purchase. They are information gatherers, seek novelty even if it means (taking risks), and have a desire for social prestige and status. Early adopters also have their own media preferences, that is, print or broadcast. As innovators, they are heavy users of product categories.

Known as the lighthouse customers, early adopters play an active role in WOM and influence other potential consumers. They occupy the position of centrality in the social network. They have the highest degree of opinion leadership amongst all adopter categories. People approach them for advice, and the very fact that they have adopted the innovation reduces the feeling of uncertainty and risk in others. They provide information and convince others to buy.

Early adopters are also more careful in their choice of adoption, so that they retain the trust of others and remain well respected. They believe that by being rational and buying the right product, they would be able to enhance their social standing and maintain and/r enhance their position in the social communication network. Because early adopters act as opinion leaders, they are often targeted by marketers.

iii. Early Majority (Deliberate):

The next in line to adopt an innovation (after innovators and early adopters) are the early majority. The early majority makes up the next 34 percent of the adopters and adds towards bringing profits to the company. The early majority are similar to the early adopters in the sense that they buy the good or service offering because they possess a need and want and desire to satisfy it. They look for benefits in innovation and want to see how a new product can help them, and so they are highly pragmatic. However, they are not as fast as the early adopters and take longer to enter into a purchase.

This is because, unlike the earlier two categories, the early majority does not have much interest in the product category. In addition, they perceive some risk with the ‘new’, and it is only after some people have bought and used the new product and they have heard reviews or watched experiences of the innovators and early majority that they decide to buy. They adopt a new product only when they are confident that it would be useful to them, and help them satisfy a need and want. The early majority buy an innovative good or service just when an average person in the social system buys.

Consumers who fall into this category are above average in age and education and with medium socio-economic status. They are careful and cautious about their purchases and buy a new product after careful investigation. They are conservative by nature and careful about accepting any kind of change.

The early majority seeks information from their neighbors and people within their social network and deliberates a lot before adopting a new good or service. They rely on the information on advertisements and salespeople but do not get swayed away by the marketer’s claims. In other words, while they are open to change, they rely on suggestions, recommendations, and approval of others, who have already bought and used the new product.

They wait for reviews of product experiences of others and will buy a new product only after receiving opinions and feedback from others, particularly early adopters. Because they collect information, evaluate it, deliberate carefully, and then make a decision, the adoption process takes longer. The early majority adopt the innovative good or service just before the average time.

The early majority are highly local, who integrate with people in their own community, and the opinions of others matter to them. However, while they interact with others, they do not hold opinion leadership positions.

iv. Late Majority (Sceptical):

The next in line to adopt an innovation (after innovators, early adopters, and late adopters) are the late majority. The late majority constitutes the next 34 percent of the adopters. They are referred to as ‘late’ because of two reasons; first, members of their peer group, social class, and reference group have already made the purchase, and the social influence is strong; second, they themselves have evaluated the new well and/or service and are ready to buy it.

The late majority take time to think and evaluate the new product, and it is much later that they decide to buy. They buy a new good and service just after an average person in the social system has done it.

The late majority are older in age, less educated, and lower in socio-economic status than the first three adopter categories. They generally belong to the middle class and have a limited disposable income. They are price sensitive and wait for prices to fall so that they can afford it. They also like to bargain and negotiate.

The late majority are traditional and conservative, very cautious, and risk-averse by nature. They are skeptical of new goods and services and look for strong customer support. They have a need and want, and it is only after careful thought and deliberation, as well as with social influence and pressure, that the ‘late majority’ make the purchase. Even if they know that the innovation is useful, they would not buy it and postpone the purchase to as late as possible.

However, when they buy, it is because of both social and peer pressure (to conform and comply), as well as the necessity (due to decreased or non-availability of previously used goods and services). This is mostly after most people in the social system have done so. The late majority adopts the new good or service category after the average time, and after the majority of people have bought and used it.

Because the late majority are risk-averse and cautious by nature, they depend on strong interpersonal networks of family, peers, and colleagues for information and guidance, as it helps them reduce their level of uncertainty. The late majority of buyers buy once they have received positive reviews and heard positive experiences of others.

The late majority makes little use of mass media, and they believe more in WOM communication. This is because they are well connected within their interpersonal networks, and trust their friends, peers, neighbors, and relatives more than advertisements and other forms of marketing communication. Interpersonal communication has a major role to play in their adoption of the ‘new’.

The late majority is as large a group as the early majority and brings huge profits for the company. However, they adopt a wait-and-watch approach before trying and/or buying a new good or service. Because they buy the new product during later stages of the product’s life cycle, and because they are a huge segment, they are important in extending the product lifecycle. So they constitute an important segment for the marketer.

v. Laggards (Traditional):

The laggards are the last to adopt a new good or service offering and make up the last 16 percent of the target market. Laggards are slow and take more time than what is actually necessary, and by the time laggards actually buy and use a new good or service, it is already on its way towards obsolescence. In fact, it no longer remains ‘new’, and is in a new version altogether. In other words, laggards buy the new product, X, when innovators and early adopters are in the stage of buying the improvised or more advanced version of X, or a completely changed product as Y.

Laggards are older in age, less educated, and have a low socioeconomic status. They do not have much exposure and prefer to be in social contact with only their family members, relatives, and close friends, who share similar traditional values. They rely on friends, peers, and neighbors as information sources.

Informal interpersonal WOM communication is essential in influencing the rate of adoption amongst laggards. Because they are low on financial resources, they are price conscious and wait for prices to fall. When they buy, they look for low prices, ease of use, and easy availability. In many cases, they buy because of the non-­availability of traditional alternatives.

Laggards are conservative, and lay a lot of emphasis on ‘traditions’. They are skeptical, afraid, and suspicious of anything ‘new’, and do not like to take risks. In other words, they are high-risk perceivers. They are dogmatic and dislike and resist change. Until the perceived trusted sources adopt the product, laggards will not be convinced enough to buy something new.

Laggards take the longest time to adopt an innovation, and the innovation-decision process is the lengthiest.

They are slow in buying the innovative offering because of several reasons:

a. One, they are uninvolved with the good and service;

b. Two, they do not possess much information;

c. Three, they are tradition-bound, and oriented to the past;

d. Four, they remain uninfluenced by social pressure, and social ties are not very strong; and

e. Five, they believe in making routine purchases and prefer to buy the ‘familiar’ rather than the ‘unfamiliar’.

Marketers generally try to ignore this category of adopters. This is because they cannot be convinced to buy and use something that is new and will buy much later when it is in the mainstream.

While laggards are often neglected by marketers, they often exhibit what is known as the ‘leapfrog effect’. Jacob Goldenberg and Shaul Oreg (2007) introduced the concept of leapfrogging and explained it as a phenomenon wherein some laggards end up being innovators, or the earliest of the early adopters of an entirely new product, by skipping various modifications and/or generations of the once considered ‘new’ product. In this way, they leave out several product generations and finally adopt the most recent technology. This would mean high profits for the company.

For example, many people moved straight away from the personal computer (desktop) to the tablet (they skipped the laptop). Another example is where people moved from the cassette player to the mp3 shuffle (they skipped the Walkman or the CD Walkman). According to Jacob Goldenberg and Shaul Oreg, laggards also upgrade to new products.

However, the difference between innovators and laggards is that while the former upgrade frequently and immediately, the latter upgrade very infrequently. Because laggards are a big segment, they should not be ignored. The job of the marketer is not to sell to laggards, but to persuade them to upgrade sooner rather than later.

Rogers’ classification includes only adopters. However, there also exists in the market a group of people who do not venture into seeking a particular good or service, as it may not conform to their socio-economic class or to their culture, or they may not have the need for such a good or service. Such people fall into a class referred to as the non-adopters, which is a category that never adopts the new good or service, and generally comprises a very small portion of the entire population.

Non-adopters may be classified into five categories, namely the unaware group, symbolic rejectors, symbolic adopters, trail adopters, and trial rejectors. The inclusion and study of the non-adopter category are crucial as it is reflective of the reality, that not all consumers adopt all new goods and service offerings.

Barriers to Adoption of an Innovation: Value Barrier, Usage Barrier, and Risk Barrier. Just as the characteristics encourage adoptions, there could be certain barriers to adoption of an innovation, Ram and Sheth have put such barriers under three heads- value barrier, usage barrier, and risk barrier.

i. Value Barrier:

The value barrier can be said to be a product’s lack of relative advantage when compared to its substitutes. When cellular phones were launched in India, being costly, it was considered to be the product of exclusive customers.

It was also accepted in business markets as a good mobile communication device and hence worth the cost. Since landline phones were already available, most consumers felt that the cost of mobile phones was too high in relation to the value they could get from the landline phones.

Subsequently, the mobile phone market saw phenomenal changes with many manufacturers such as Bharti (Airtel), Hutch, Reliance, etc., entering it and pushing down the price of the handset and offering various schemes that help in reducing the monthly charges. Simultaneously, the mobile phone companies are also using various media to convey information on their product- service offering’s value to their target market.

ii. Usage Barrier:

A usage barrier takes place when a product or service is not compatible with the consumer’s existing habits. For instance, even though we are in the I.T (Information Technology) age with a reasonable percentage of the consumers being tech-savvy, online shopping has not found wide acceptance.

There is resistance from customers who prefer to visit shops, examine the merchandise, and have their queries attended to by the store personal. Moreover, they feel there is a fun element involved when shopping with friends and relatives. The usage barrier in online shopping occurs because they feel it is not compatible with their desire for a visual treat and social interaction involved in shopping when compared to e-shopping.

To a certain extent, marketers are handling this barrier by having opinion leaders (persons who have personal experience with the benefits of e-shopping) communicate about the positive aspects of online shopping.

iii. Risk Barrier:

A risk barrier refers to the consumer’s physical, economic, performance, or social risk in adopting an innovation. When cellular phones were introduced, consumers were worried about risks due to reports about physical risks of radiation from frequent and long usage of mobile phones.

But technological improvements and media communication to educate consumers helped to reduce consumers' perception of these risks. Initially, consumers had fears about personal computer (PC) price (economic) and performance (complicated software languages).

This risk has been largely reduced by lowering the price of PCs as well as new, easily understandable software packages being made available in the market. Consumers’ social risk of adopting designer wear clothes can be overcome through endorsements made of consumers’ peer groups who have already used the same.

An effective way of reducing consumer risk is through offering free samples or trail or unique online strategies. Free samples are given during the launch of continuous innovations for products such as toothpaste and detergent powders. Car manufacturers are offering free test drives when new models are launched (Zen Estilo, Corolla, Logan), Auto companies are using a combination of online and offline strategies to interact with prospective customers.

For instance, Toyota has taken the online route to sell its limited-edition model of the Toyota Corolla. Internet research has become an important part of the purchasing process of cars. The company feels that using tools like microsites, direct mailers through the internet, SMS campaigns, and having set up a back-office operation that will provide the link to its dealers will help the customer in his internet research.

Travel portals are now partnering with retail chains to increase their volumes by having their presence at such high footfall areas. For instance, make my had set up a separate counter at Spencer’s after receiving an encouraging response for a similar pilot study done at Subhiksha. So apart from flight/hotel bookings which can be done through an internet interface, complete holiday packages can be offered through face-face interaction.

Some marketers use their distribution network by offering offline transaction services to customers. Yatra online has tied up with Hughes a broadband satellite network provider to offer its travel-related services to customers particularly in smaller cities.

Through this tie-up, Yatra will use select Hughes Net Fusion centers across the country to create an offline model of booking and payment. Thus customers who still have the fear of using their credit cards for e-commerce transactions and those who don’t have credit cards will have comfort and feel secure about cash transactions.

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