Diffusion Theory

  • Developed by sociologist Everett Rogers in 1962.
  • Focusing on innovation acceptance and adoption by large groups usually a society or the population.
  • 5 types of innovation adopters: depending on willingness to adopt new technology, forming a bell-curve
  • S-shaped innovation curve

Sociological research consitantly shows that succesful innovations take a certain time to get from 0% to 100% of user adoption in the population. It has been found that the rate of adoption for almost every innovation follows the form of a long drawn out „S“ – hence the name S-Shaped curve of Adoption. The first 16% of the S-curve is quite flat, while the middle part rises very steeply and then flattens out in the last 16%, that lead towards full acceptance.

The 5 categories of innovation adopters

The general idea: Some people adopt innovations easier and faster than others. Rogers split the population into 5 adopter groups, depending on how fast they are willing to use new technology. Based on empirical research on a wide variety of innovations, Rogers calculated the volume split for the population for all five categories. Eventhough developed more than 50 years ago, these categories have remained valid and are still widely employed by practitioners as well as academics.



Small but important 2,5% : pioneers in learning and using the innovation

  • Characteristics: risk-taking, adventurous
  • Role: Introduce the innovation trough sharing the first experiences with their community

Early adopters

Make up 13,5% of the consumers and are among the first to adopt new ideas.

  • Characteristics: Small forward-thinking group, highly respected opinions
  • Role: Their use of the new technology marks the turning point to the usage of the majority. Shifting the product-adoption from the trendsetters to the majority.

Early Majority

First 34% in the majority

  • Characteristics: cautious, adopt only when convinced of practical benefits and utility of the innovation.
  • Role: Lift the product to mainstream and create peer pressure to use the new technology.

Late Majority

Last 34% in the majority

  • Characteristics: Don’t like change but easily influenced by peer pressure, need a lot of security before trying out new products
  • Role: Hardly accept the innovation until the majority approves and uses it.


Last group to adopt new product

  • Characteristics: Highly resistant to change, low exposure to media: hard to be reached by marketing
  • Role: Adopt innovation only if they have to or might never adopt it at all.

Product Attributes

In 1995 Rogers performed a meta-study of 1,500 diffusion studies and found that the perceived attributes of an innovation are the most important explanation for the rate of adoption and that “most of the variance in the rate of adoption of innovations, from 49 to 87 percent, is explained by only five attribute categories. These are:

  • Relative advantage
  • Compatibility
  • Complexity
  • Trialability
  • Observability

Criticism of the Diffusion Theory:

  • Only provides little information about the individual’s intention and motives to use new technologies.
  • The overall time of adoption varies drastically between different types of innovations and thus the framework can not be used as a planning and foresighting tool.

Advantages of the Diffusion Theory

  • Provides a clear structure and is easy to comprehend.
  • The Diffusion Theory can be adapted to the respective research context and was empirically validated in many fields.
  • The generic adoption user types, eventhough developed in the 1960s, can still be replicated with modern technologies.

Field of Application:

  • Marketing: In order to reach the highest possible number of users and acceptance, group-specific marketing channels and messages should be used to fit specific needs.
  • Product Management: The S-Curved can be employed to forecast the Innovation Life-Cycle and thus can be used to predict production volumes and related factors.

To learn more about the Diffusion Theory, visit the sources below:

Rogers, E. M. (1962), Diffusion of innovations. New York: The Free Press.

Rogers, E. M. (2003), Diffusion of Innovations. New York: The Free Press.