Diffusion of Innovation, Part Two

Original author: Victor Yokko
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This is an adapted translation of the second and final part of a series of articles on diffusion of innovation. The first part is available here .

Communication expert and sociologist Everett Rogers, the diffusion theory of innovation, is trying to identify and explain the factors that drive people to accept innovation. Project teams (design teams) that understand and take these nuances into account have the greatest chances for their adoption by the broad and waiting masses.

Diffusion of innovation is a complex process . In it, project teams should use their theoretical knowledge for marketing and dealing with critical factors, which we will talk about now.

I went through the types of users and the adoption process in the first part of the story. The second half will talk about five characteristics of innovation that determine its use. According to the theory, this will determine its long-term prospects.

Characteristics of Innovation

People do not immediately get used to something new. They make an informed decision. This is something intentional. Returning to the previous part, I will say that this is the third step in adopting innovation. He needs to pay a lot of attention, this is one of the most important points. Theory identifies five characteristics that determine the use of innovation:

Relative superiority

Relative superiority determines how much better the product is compared to the previous generation or its equivalent. The changes may be as follows:

  • improved service
  • combining several functions into one tool
  • reduced need for support resources
  • user empowerment
  • improved interface
  • improved customizability
  • increased durability
  • increased productivity
  • reduced user effort
  • reduced environmental impact
  • saving money
  • space saving
  • time saving

In the 1980s and early 90s, WordStar and WordPerfect demonstrated relative superiority over existing products. In offices, typewriters, which took up a lot of space, were most often used. They performed only one function, always in need of maintenance and updating of spare parts on a regular basis (and even they are noisy, these gizmos).

As computers became more common, WordStar and WordPerfect freed people from typewriters. Superiority was obvious. Programs not only did not need additional physical. space (except, in fact, the computer). Ink and correction tapes were no longer needed, document editing became easier thanks to printing, files could be saved and transferred to floppy disks. Soon, typewriters generally disappeared from the offices; they were replaced by computers with word processing programs.

Word processing software and typewriters

Your team will face relative superiority in a variety of ways. If this is not, then this is not an innovation, and in general the game is not worth the candle. You need to find the potential of your product at the development planning stage. From this point on, you need to work on these strengths in order to have an advantage in your direction when comparing with competitors.

Market research should follow certain logic. Have you identified the demand for innovation? What are competing products? By placing emphasis on the problem that your development solves, and on how it does it, you will understand its relative superiority.

You should clearly highlight the relative superiority of your product in marketing. The better your existing product? How does he solve unmet needs? You must be very aware of these things, and advertising materials should show them and prove why you excel similar products.

You need to do research to support your claims. For example, you say that your product is easier than a competing thing. But are you sure that users need this? Does it somehow save them money or reduce their dependence on a few things by combining their functions? Prove it, and then use the facts in advertising.


Compatibility is an indicator of how innovation is assimilated in people's lives. Potential buyers should be aware that your product is “compatible” with them. If your product requires major changes in their lifestyle or it needs additional products, then most likely you are doomed to failure. Innovations are successful only when people, unnoticed by themselves, take them into their lives. When they replace something.

The iPad is a great example of a product with good compatibility with potential customers. Many have stopped using smartphones and laptops to read mail, surf the net and just watch videos on the Internet.

Your team needs to understand for whom and what they are developing. You will not succeed in making innovation using a society that does not have electricity. You need a deep understanding of the conditions in which your development will be at the time of release. Answer the following questions with the compatibility of your product in mind:

  • How will your innovation fit the lives of users?
  • What changes in behavior are needed for your product to take root?
  • What extra. products are necessary for the success of your innovation (for example, high-speed Internet connection, gas, etc.)
  • What existing products do you replace?
  • How does your innovation fit with the psychological model and beliefs of people?

These questions are required. Honestly, the success of your product depends on how the innovation gets along with the beliefs, attitudes, values ​​and behavior of potential customers.

Compatibility does not force innovation to be less “innovative." Let's walk through the success of the iPad once again, noting its key factors.

iPad appeared just during the “evolution” of human views. Many thought that new technologies were designed to facilitate a daily routine (belief) that this is a good phenomenon (attitude). People have already used laptops and smartphones to surf the net (behavior).

Wi-Fi made the Internet accessible, this allowed the basic functions of the iPad to work almost everywhere (technology). In the end, enough people were willing to spend money on these types of technologies to show them as worthwhile to the late majority. These factors have made the iPad compatible with people's lives.

iPad as an example of compatibility

Apple's knowledge of their market has led to iPad's success. And he would hardly have suffered the same fate if he had been released before the advent of ubiquitous Wi-Fi or mass access to digital films and music. Your project team needs a clear understanding of market potential and the conditions that must be met for better product compatibility with customers' lives. If success depends on the availability of some other product, you need to figure out what it is, is it widespread and will not prevent potential buyers from using your product.

Complexity versus simplicity

Complexity and simplicity - the nuances in how people learn to use your product are important. Difficulty puts sticks in the wheels of progress. The trick of innovation = the difficulties in its adoption by people. Potential buyers usually do not have enough time to deal with all the subtleties. The more intuitive the product, the better it will go to the masses. Everything is simple.

The Oreo Cookie Separation Machine is a great example of an overly complex contraption. Even if people decide that they need such a device, the level of required effort is prohibitive. Potential buyers will be forced to reread the instructions many times, to delve into it for a long time. This machine is a clear illustration of a feature such as compatibility. The size here matters (it is huge), not everyone has a whole room for an automated cookie separation system. A handheld portable version would be more likely to succeed.

Your team needs to aim for simplicity, carefully study every detail of your product. High technology should not immediately mean high learning ability. Treat usability testing as standard practice. This has its obvious practical benefit:

  • Iterate your product design . Usability test results should directly influence these iterations. Take a look at the problems encountered when using your product, pay attention to the terminology with which your users are unfamiliar, present the information in an understandable way.
  • If you can’t cope with the problems identified as a result of the usability tests, describe them in the FAQ, tips, video tutorials and other educational materials.
  • If your product is a complicated thing, with many standard and advanced options, you can still find a middle ground. Quick Start is a cool example of simplifying tricky systems. Having bought a TV or computer, most likely in the box you will find one sheet with a description of how to connect this product for its basic use. It fits most people. An extended instruction with a description of all the functions most often appears as a downloadable PFD file or simply lies nearby. That's how everyone was pleased.

Quick start guide for Amazon fireTV. The full version takes 39 pages.


Testability is a characteristic that shows how well people can research your product before buying. This is an important point in making innovation. A person needs to know what your product is and even make a “test run”. This is the whole point of demos and beta releases. Potential buyers should understand what their life will become after the adoption of the product.

It is necessary to provide people with the opportunity to test your product. There are many examples of a competent approach to this issue in digital products. Sirius XM has a 30-day free period during which the user can come to the conclusion that a subscription is worth the money. You can offer a free limited version of your product with the option to pay for additional features. Join.me effectively uses this technique: it offers a “poor” free version of its desktop broadcast service. Users see the benefits of paid services and use them more actively.

Join.me: you can of course "share" the control of your cursor. It will cost a pretty penny.

You can offer a version of your product without ads, allowing users to decide for themselves whether or not to pay for it. Pandora has this approach. You can listen to music for free, but after a few songs, the advertisement necessarily plays. Do you want to get rid of her? Pay Pandora One.

Pandora offers a paid subscription to its service without ads.

It is worth understanding which of these methods is best for you when working with potential buyers. Explore your audience or evaluate how your competitors are working with trial versions of their products. In testability, the most important thing is the high quality of the trial version, showing the experience your team wanted to create. Users will make a decision based on this particular nuance. Do not think that this “trial” is the best chance for testing and collecting feedback. You will do more harm than good if you have a free version full of bugs and problems. The hasty release of an unfinished trial product is the definition of self-sabotage.


Visibility is the degree to which the results of using the product are visible. In the first part, we found out that not everyone immediately accepts innovations. All those who go after the pioneers rely in their choice on observing this group. Visibility goes far beyond the “later” categories. Absolutely all types of users should see the benefits of adopting and using innovation.

Understand how people will see the benefits of your product. Here are some ways to emphasize them:

  • Compare . Potential buyers should first of all see the advantages of your product over others. Comparison is a good thing when you have easily distinguishable superiority over competitors. For example, cunning shopkeepers deliberately put the best TVs in front of smaller and / or worse models to create contrast and a more obvious difference.
  • Before and after. What will be a person’s life after using your product? By showing a positive difference, you will have a significant impact on potential buyers. Are there any noticeable changes in any aspects that your product leads to? If your application teaches foreign languages, you can focus on the average number of new words that can be learned using it.
  • Recommendations . People perceive the impressions of others very well. Of course, advertising campaigns on traditional information channels are an important and necessary thing, but it’s even more important to hear feedback from ordinary people. For example, online reviews. People who write recommendations and reviews greatly influence public opinion and potential buyers. Make texts about your sites appear on relevant sites.

Following these tips exactly is optional. Be creative in introducing the benefits of your innovation. Think of a way to reach as many forms of media as possible in order to increase the reach of people who find out about your product.

Blockbuster and Netflix: A Tale of Innovation (in some way)

Let's walk through the characteristics of innovation already on the example of the streaming video service Netflix. Once, around the year 2001, there was a video rental giant called Blockbuster. Thousands of stores, tens of thousands of employees - things went well, the vast majority of the market belonged to this network. Blockbuster sat quietly to himself and watched what was happening, because everything was fine. It was. Because Blockbuster did not notice at one time Netflix, a small but more innovative competitor that was already close to overthrowing the giant.

Blockbuster: many shops, many workers, few innovations.

Netflix appeared in 1997. In less than 15 years, he (using Redbox) completely changed the video rental market to such an extent that Blockbuster declared bankruptcy and ordered a long life in 2011. All this happened due to the innovation of Netflix and its products.

Relative superiority

In 2001, Netflix users paid a monthly DVD subscription in the mail.

This gave an obvious superiority over Blockbuster and other "brick" stores. DVD by mail was much more convenient for most people, as they regularly received letters at home or in the office. Users were less likely to be subject to fines for a delay in the rental of discs, and this, in turn, defamed and killed the Blockbuster image.

Netflix evolved in parallel with technology. Since 2001, the number of homes connected to the Internet has rapidly begun to grow. In 2007, Netflix began to provide the ability to stream movies and TV programs. Users no longer had to wait until their order was delivered. The need for a return is generally gone. And if you have a laptop or PC, you have access to all content anytime, anywhere.

Today, Netflix also offers its services on game consoles, smartphones and tablets. Users are just a few clicks from viewing their favorite programs in any resolution on any screen. Netflix switched from mail, which was very expensive and relied on not the most reliable way to deliver content to the Internet. The company has maintained its relative superiority through innovation and technology growth.

Complexity versus simplicity

Netflix took a simple thing and made it even easier. This is the main characteristic of a successful innovation: take something and do it better than the rest. The concept of video rental was not new. Netflix made the process easier: users watch movies when it’s convenient and in the order that suits them, and then they can quickly return them.

Netflix later went even further and began to make recommendations based on user behavior. The system advises content based on ratings previously set by the client. This shows Netflix as an expert in the eyes of people. The service not only delivers content, but also oversees and recommends films and programs.


The Netflix model is especially good with approbation. The company has an excellent free period, familiar to almost everyone. In the beginning, potential buyers could just see the convenience of receiving and returning DVDs by mail. As soon as streaming appeared and became generally accepted, people were fascinated by the magic of video on demand for a month.

Netflix content is constantly growing, so users simply can’t get to know everything in just one month. The advantages of the trial period fully justify its duration. People with a “trial” have exactly the same opportunities as full-fledged clients. They can watch whatever they want. If they still do not decide to subscribe already for money, then they immediately lose access to everything.

Netflix trial period: one month and you are already on the hook for the rest of your life


Netflix is ​​also strong on this. Remember, we said that you need to make visible not only the product itself, but also the advantages of its use?

Having made their choice towards Blockbuster, people felt the flaws of its system back in 1999. There were fines for late returns, it was difficult to get new items, and you had to go a lot to rent or return the film.

Blockbuster's flaws made Netflix's appearance of superiority very high. Monthly subscription - no penalties for delay. It was a mail delivery service - no extra work. You could change the order of receipt of films - always see what you want. When potential customers learned about Netflix, they no longer needed to explain its benefits. And Blockbuster’s continued efforts to offer mail delivery and video streaming have only confirmed Netflix’s success.

Netflix increased product visibility with its packaging. The bright red DVD envelope worked well. People saw a neighbor taking a Netflix package from a mailbox, and realized how easy it was to use the services of that particular company.

“Hey, where did you get this DVD?” Netflix branded packaging has enhanced brand awareness.

Netflix has been an industry innovator for 15 years. The company went through water, fire and copper pipes, the economic problems that killed Blockbuster, then its main rival. Yes, often the future of Netflix was in doubt, but focusing on user feedback and innovation did the trick. To stay competitive, Netflix will have to continue to innovate.

Do not stop!

Your project team should often turn to the concepts outlined in the diffusion of innovation. I recommend just writing down all the above characteristics and how your product relates to them. And yes, it would be nice to visualize the ecosystem in which your development exists. Include these points in the document:

  • Under what conditions can your innovation flourish (for example, ubiquitous access to high-speed Internet)?
  • What technologies should be compatible with your product (for example, should a smartphone be able to run any applications)?
  • What market research and potential buyers need to be done?
  • What can you control and how can you manipulate (for example, transactions with content distributors)?
  • What products compete with yours (including physical and digital)?
  • What are their shortcomings and what is your superiority?
  • How do competitors advertise their products? Which marketing campaigns are most successful?
  • Is there a better time to launch your product (for example, when your product solves problems that people have)?
  • What form of testing do you have?
  • What is important is what the “after” time looks like. What will the world be like if your innovation becomes ubiquitous?

And add to the list more questions from the previous part:

  • Did you find out who falls into which category of users?
  • Who are your pioneers and previously most?
  • How do potential buyers find out about your innovation?
  • How can people get more information about your product?

The answers to these questions are hard work, but worth it. Use visualization and the answers to your questions as a map to move on and develop. Of course, nothing will work out perfectly, but find out as much as possible about what affects your success. Project teams that understand the diffusion of innovation are superior to competitors that do not have this knowledge.

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