Diffusion of Innovations: Psychographic Profiles

Diffusion of Innovations was published in 1962 by Everett Rogers, a professor at Ohio State University.

Everett M. Rogers is widely known as the inventor of the “Diffusion of Innovations” theory from his research on how farmers adopt agricultural innovations. Rogers was an assistant professor of rural sociology at Ohio State University when the first edition of Diffusion of Innovations was published. [1962].

Rogers proposed that adopters of any new innovation or idea can be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%), based on the mathematically based Bell curve. These categories, based on standard deviations from the mean of the normal curve, provide a common language for innovation researchers.

Each adopter’s willingness and ability to adopt an innovation depends on their awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. People can fall into different categories for different innovations, so for example a farmer might be an early adopter of mechanical innovations, but a late majority adopter of biological innovations or digital media.

Rogers’ book, Diffusion of Innovations, gave him academic fame and it still remains the second most cited book title in social sciences today. His research and work became highly accepted in communications and technology adoption studies, and recently has found its way to practical health problems, such as: hygiene, family planning, cancer prevention and drunk driving.

The following psychographic profiles were abstracted from Rogers’ work while studying the diffusion of farm practices among farmers located in Iowa:

Innovators

They have larger than average farms, are well educated and usually come from well established families.They usually have a relatively high net worth and, probably more important, a large amount of risk capital. They can afford and do take calculated risks on new products. They are respected for being successful, but ordinarily do not enjoy the highest prestige in the community. Because innovators adopt new ideas so much sooner than the average farmer, they are sometimes ridiculed by their conservative neighbors. This neighborhood group pressure is largely ignored by the innovators, however. The innovations are watched by their neighbors, but they are not followed immediately in new practices.

The activities of innovators often transcend local community boundaries. Rural innovators frequently belong to formal organizations at the county, regional, state, or national level. In addition, they are likely to have many informal contacts outside the community: they may visit with others many miles away who are also trying a new technique or product, or who are technical experts.

Early Adopters

They are younger than the average farmer, but not necessarily younger than the innovators. They also have a higher average education, and participate more in the formal activities of the community through such organizations as churches, the PTA, and farm organizations. They participate more than the average in agricultural cooperatives and in government agency programs in the community (such as Extension Service or Soil Conservation). In fact, there is some evidence that this group furnishes a disproportionate amount of the formal leadership (elected officers) in the community. Early adopters are also respected as good sources of new farm information by their neighbors.

Early Majority

The early majority are slightly above average in age, education, and farming experience. They have medium high social and economic status. They are less active in formal groups than innovators or early adopters, but more active than those who adopt later. In many cases, they are not formal leaders in the community organizations, but they are active members in these organizations. They also attend Extension meetings and farm demonstrations.

The people in this category are most likely to be informal rather than elected leaders. They have a following insofar as people respect their opinions, their “high morality and sound judgment.” They are “just like their following, only more so.” They must be sure an idea will work before they adopt it. If the informal leader fails two or three times, his following looks elsewhere for information and guidance. Because the informal leader has more limited resources than the early adopters and innovators, he cannot afford to make poor decisions: the social and economic costs are too high.

These people tend to associate mainly in their own community. When people in the community are asked to name neighbors and farmers with whom they talk over ideas, these early majority are named disproportionally frequently. On their parts, they value highly the opinions their neighbors and friends hold about them, for this is their main source of status and prestige. The early majority may look to the early adopters for their new farm information.

Late majority

Those in this group have less education and are older than the average farmer. While they participate less actively in formal groups, they probably form the bulk of the membership in these formal organizations. Individually they belong to fewer organizations, are less active in organizational work, and take fewer leadership roles than earlier adopters. They do not participate in as many activities outside the community as do people who adopt earlier.

Laggards

They have the least education and are the oldest. They participate least in formal organizations, cooperatives, and government agency programs. They have the smallest farms and the least capital. Many are suspicious of county extension agents and agricultural salesmen.

 

We have helped over 100 high-tech and clean-tech companies achieve sustained revenue growth using the concepts described in “Diffusion of Innovations.”

Characteristics of an early adopters

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