The Diffusion of Innovations Theory: Some Research Questions and Ideas

By Onkvisit, Sak; Shaw, John J. | Akron Business and Economic Review, Spring 1989 | Go to article overview

The Diffusion of Innovations Theory: Some Research Questions and Ideas


Onkvisit, Sak, Shaw, John J., Akron Business and Economic Review


The Diffusion Of Innovations Theory: Some Research Questions And Ideas

To expand the scope of scientific knowledge, it is necessary to logically integrate relevant items of knowledge, fill gaps within the specified body of knowledge, and strive for wide applications. It is thus quite appropriate for the applied field of consumer behavior to rely greatly on the theories and concepts developed by social and behavioral scientists. One of the theories borrowed from the other disciplines is the diffusion process of innovations theory, which has provided some richness to the marketing field.

Although the diffusion theory has gained a great deal of acceptance by marketing scholars, it has not necessarily done so among marketing practitioners. To help in the understanding and resolving of difficulties in applying the theory to realistic marketing situations, this paper identifies and discusses the various research problems. Some research questions and recommendations on how to enhance the marketing applicability of the theory will be the primary focus of the discussion.

SOME CRITICAL PROBLEMS AND ISSUES

There are many criteria of theory evaluation, some of which are in conflict. Understandably, researchers/practitioners, depending on their perspectives, often use different criteria. Some prefer to stress the explanation function. For most practitioners, however, the usefulness of any theory must rest on its ability to perform the prediction and control functions.

There is no question that the diffusion theory has made a great contribution to the understanding and explaining of consumer behavior. But a good theory must do more than explain a phenomenon of interest--it should allow a decision maker to predict and control the outcome. With regard to the explanatory power, the diffusion theory has scored extremely well. The prediction and control functions, in contrast, are the two areas in which the theory's performance has not been impressive[14].

As explained by Zaltman, LeMasters, and Heffring[30], a theory should subject itself to pragmatic reality tests in the sense that it is feasible to implement recommendations made by the theory. Unfortunately for many marketing instructors who try to teach students its marketing application, they find it very difficult to provide examples of how companies actually use the diffusion theory once an explanation of the theory has been provided. A review of the marketing examples cited in well-known consumer behavior textbooks will quickly reveal the extent of the problem. The examples used merely show that some new products were well received by consumers in general and not by innovators. There is nothing to demonstrate that the companies mentioned consciously attempted to appeal to innovators before subsequently reaching other adopter groups. It is apparent that the authors of these textbooks did not or could not actually provide evidence of the application of the theory within the marketplace.

Considering the fact that there are more than 2,700 publications related to the study of innovation diffusion[21], we can safely presume that marketing practitioners must certainly be aware of the existence of this theory. But, through a lack of its application in the marketplace, we must also admit that marketing practitioners have all but completely ignored it. This fact should be fair warning to scholars of the potential difficulties found in the application of this theory.

It is a difficult task to criticize a theory that has been well accepted for so long as has the diffusion theory. After extolling the value of the theory for decades, it is only natural for marketing instructors to be upset with those who question the relevance of the popular theory. But instead of being defensive, marketing scholars should address the issue explicitly and directly by studying research issues that may allow the diffusion theory to become more applicable within the marketing setting. …

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