The Influence of Communication Source and Mode on Consumer Adoption of Technological Innovations

Article excerpt

Communication is the critical process of diffusion of technological innovations, yet there is little research in the consumer behavior literature investigating how communication affects consumers' decision to adopt technological innovations. This paper examines the effects of communication source and modality on consumers' adoption of technological innovations using the 1999 University of Michigan's Survey of Consumers data. Specifically, a typology of communication sources and modality is presented, and the respective and interrelated influences of source and mode on consumers' adoption of electronic banking are examined. The results demonstrate that communication factors can serve as significant predictors of consumer adoption of technological innovations and that consumer preferences for communication source and modality vary for different segments of adopters. In addition, we find information gaps between consumer segments high and low in socioeconomic status. Finally, implications for the diffusion of te chnological innovations and future research directions are discussed.

Technology is "a form of human activity that applies the principles of science and mechanics to the solution of problems," to the enhancement of performance, and the creation of competitive advantage (Bush 1981, p. 1). In today's world, technological advancements seem to occur constantly as companies introduce innovative products and services into the marketplace at an ever-increasing speed. During this era of accelerating technological advancement, product life cycles for many high tech innovations are rapidly decreasing. Facing the challenge of what may seem to be a bombardment of technological products and services, coupled with the rapid pace of change occurring in the technology industry, many consumers today seem to be overwhelmed with technological innovation (Cohen 1999; Hirschman 1987; Miles 2000). Without diffusion agents vigorously communicating useful information, these consumers are not always able to recognize the full advantages of these technological innovations (Campbell 1999; Nuttall 1998). As Allen (1971) rightly put it, technology is also "consumer information" (p. 2), the flow of which must be planned and managed through appropriate communication processes in order to facilitate the adoption by potential customers.

Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations Theory (1995) provides some conceptual guidance for understanding the adoption of products and services, and how technological innovation is proliferated across the consuming public (Gatignon and Robertson 1985). To date, the bulk of the diffusion studies in the consumer behavior literature have tilted heavily toward either individual predisposition (Hirschman 1980; Midgley and Dowling 1978) or innovation characteristics (Rogers 1995), as precursors of innovation adoption. It is important to note that communication is also a critical process factor for the diffusion of innovation (Mahajan, Muller, and Bass 1990). Yet, to date, consumer researchers have largely neglected the empirical study of communication in the diffusion process. Only a handful of studies have considered the notion that various types of communication can influence consumers' adoption of innovation (Mahajan, Muller, and Bass 1990; Mahajan, Muller, and Srivastava 1990).

This paper considers the diffusion of technological innovation as it travels through multiple communication sources employing various communication modes. In this study, "sources" including mass media (i.e., one-way communication from corporations or government to consumers) and word of mouth (i.e., communications with family and friends), are coupled with one or both conversation and/or print "modes." While previous studies have not differentiated the effects of written and conversational communication, this study explicitly recognizes and investigates the differential impacts of written and conversational modalities. …