Attribution Theory and Diffusion of Innovation
Marketing experts have studied attribution for many decades, with current theory dating to the 1950s work of F. Heider. It is the study of human behavior as it relates to purchasing products and services. Businesses must do much more than tout the virtues of their wares. They must convince the consumer that he needs that particular item to solve a problem or improve his lifestyle.
Attribution theory assumes that people draw upon their past experiences when facing a new situation. People assess the quality of a product as they are using it. Regardless of whether they are happy or disappointed with its performance, people draw conclusions about the product, the manufacturer, or perhaps the country of origin. When the consumer sees a similar product on the market, his past experience will influence his future purchase decisions.
People influence the personality of others through their daily interactions. This influence extends to purchase decisions. As an example, an office manager prefers a certain mode of dress, such as wearing skirts every day instead of slacks. Other women in the office will start to dress similarly in the hope of impressing her enough for a promotion. The women’s past experience taught them that bosses usually promote people who are similar in appearance and interests. This past experience influences the present decision to buy skirts rather than slacks.
Attribution and role-playing are related. People learn the responsibilities and expectations of different roles. Their purchasing behavior can be attributed to those expectations. For example, an advertising executive will drive an expensive, late-model car and pay hefty membership fees to the best country club. He must exude success to convince the client that his advertising firm is the best choice for the product campaign. Businesses marketing high-end products, including cars and golf clubs, gear their advertising to consumers who need the products or services for the roles they play.
Consumers attribute a value to a product they are considering purchasing. They consider the brand name, or lack of brand name, as some prefer name brands while others are willing to try generics. Price is another factor in attributing value, as some consumers may attribute poor quality to a product with an exceptionally low price. The third factor in product value is the consumer’s peer group. Most people prefer to fit in with their peers. Marketing experts consider product value when recommending pricing and packaging for a new line. If the target group is young singles, for example, then advertising will depict people in their 20s.
DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION
The diffusion of innovation is the process by which new products are adopted (or not) by their intended audiences. It allows designers and marketers to examine why it is that some inferior products are successful when some superior products are not.
The idea of diffusion is not new; in fact it was originally examined by Gabriel Tarde, a French sociologist, in the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that the phenomenon began to be investigated in depth by researchers.
The Process for Diffusion of Innovation
Rogers’ draws on Ryan and Gross’s work to deliver a 5 stage process for the diffusion of innovation.
The first step in the diffusion of innovation is knowledge. This is the point at which the would-be adopter is first exposed to the innovation itself. They do not have enough information to make a decision to purchase on and have not yet been sufficiently inspired to find out more.
At this stage marketers will be looking to increase awareness of the product and provide enough education that the prospective adopter moves to the 2nd stage.
As it was once said (by whom we’re not sure); “If the user can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.”
Persuasion is the point at which the prospective adopter is open to the idea of purchase. They are actively seeking information which will inform their eventual decision.
This is the point at which marketers will be seeking to convey the benefits of the product in detail. There will be a conscious effort to sell the product to someone at this stage of the diffusion of innovation.
Eventually the would-be adopter must make a decision. They will weigh up the pros and cons of adoption and either accept the innovation or reject it.
It is worth noting that this is the most opaque part of the process. Rogers cites this as the most difficult phase on which to acquire intelligence. This is, at least in part, due to the fact that people do not make rational decisions in many instances. They make a decision based on their underlying perceptions and feelings and following the decision they attempt to rationalize that decision. Thus, obtaining an understanding of the decision making process is challenging – the reasons given following a decision are not likely to be representative of the actual reasons that a decision was made.
Once a decision to adopt a product has been made the product will, in most cases, be used by the purchaser. This stage is when the adopter makes a decision as to whether or not the product is actually useful to them. They may also seek out further information to either support the use of the product or to better understand the product in context.
This phase is interesting because it suggests that designers and marketers alike need to consider the ownership process in detail. How can a user obtain useful information in the post-sale environment? The quality of the implementation experience is going to be determined, to a lesser or greater extent, by the ease of access to information and the quality of that information.
This is the point at which the user evaluates their decision and decides whether they will keep using the product or abandon use of the product. This phase can only be ended by abandonment of a product otherwise it is continual. (For example, you may buy a new car today – you are highly likely to keep using the car for a number of years – eventually, however, you will probably sell the car and buy a new one).
This phase will normally involve a personal examination of the product and also a social one (the user will seek confirmation from their peers, colleagues, friends, etc.)