Identifying the Innovator As a Consumer Change Agent


Charles W. King and George E. Ryan (1971) ,"Identifying the Innovator As a Consumer Change Agent", in SV - Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, eds. David M. Gardner, College Park, MD : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 446-451.

Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1971     Pages 446-451


Charles W. King, Purdue University

George E. Ryan, Purdue University

During the past 60 years, a substantial body of empirical research has been generated which focuses on the innovator or early adopter of new concepts. Conceptually, Rogers (1971) has defined the innovator as an individual who adopts an innovation earlier than other members of his social system. Operationally, however, a wide range of research approaches and measures have been employed in identifying innovators.

The purpose of this paper is to review the current measures of innovativeness and to present a conceptual structure for the development of a more comprehensive measure of innovativeness.

Operational Measures of Innovativeness: A Description

Historically, researchers have used many different operational measures of innovativeness. Five commonly used measures are:

1) Actual time of adoption: subjective or objective;

2) Self perceived innovativeness;

3) Innovation adoption at time of study: summed score;

4) Intention to adopt;

5) Innovativeness indexes based on aggregated attitudinal item analyses.

Actual Time of Adoption: Subjective or Objective

The most popular means of determining innovativeness has been to determine the point in time at which an individual purchased an innovation.

The time of adoption criterion has been defined by two methods: subjective and objective. Under the subjective method, the respondent is asked the approximate date that he first purchased a particular innovation. Although this measure seems conceptually correct, it may be open to bias due to inaccurate recall. (King, 1964 and King and Summers, 1967)

In an effort to reduce the recall bias, the objective method is used. This method consists of determining the date of first purchase by searching written records such as doctor's prescriptions and sales receipts. (Menzel and Katz, 1956 and Coleman, Katz and Menzel, 1957) Although the objective method corrects the recall problem, it is obvious that it can be used for only a limited number of innovations where accurate purchase records are maintained.

Self Perceived Innovativeness

A second measure that has been used to identify innovators can be termed self perceived innovativeness. This measure consists of asking the respondent to estimate how innovative he is compared to others. (King and Summers, 1967) This form of self perceived innovativeness has been found to correlate from +.39 (Robertson, 1968) to .69 (Rogers, 1957) with the respondent's recalled time of adoption. Consequently, this measure explains only 16 to 49 percent of the variance between itself and time of adoption.

The low correlations between these two measures suggest that respondents' self perceptions of their innovativeness and their recalled time of adoption relative to their "social system" do not agree. Many respondents who perceive themselves as innovators are not innovators as reflected by their recalled dates of actual purchase and vice versa.

Innovation Adoption at the Time of Study: Summed Score

Using the "innovation adoption at the time of the study" measure, the measure of innovativeness focuses on the adoption of one or more recently introduced innovations. (King and Summers, 1967 and King and Ness, 1969)

More specifically, an innovation or innovation's with low market penetration or adoption are studied. Respondents' reported purchase of the innovation or innovation's is recorded. If a list of innovations is studied, a respondent's innovativeness is typically based on a summed score of the number of innovations adopted. (King and Baumgarten, 1970)

Intention to Adopt

A variation on the "actual time of adoption: subjective and objective" and the "adoption at the time of study: a summed score" measures is the "intention to adopt" measure. Respondents are asked their intentions to purchase a specific innovation or a set of innovations. (King and Baumgarten, 1970)

Innovativeness Indexes

A fifth class of measure focuses on aggregated attitudinal measures.

Methodologically, at the outset in using this approach, series of attitudinal measures hypothesized to be related to innovativeness is constructed. Ultimately, the series of attitudinal items are aggregated to produce a scale reportedly measuring respondents' attitudinal propensity to adopt new concepts.

Two primary analytical techniques are used in scale construction. In one procedure, a respondent's Likert scale response values may be summed across all the items in an a priori constructed scale. An "innovativeness scale" score is then derived for each respondent. (Tigert, 1971 and King and Summers, 1967)

A second approach involves the construction of an innovativeness factor. Using factor analysis, building upon the respondents' Likert scale response values, the individual attitudinal items are weighted. From this aggregated analysis an "innovativeness" factor score is calculated for each respondent.


Innovative Behavior

The review of the historical measures of innovativeness reflects a need for broadening both the theoretical dimensions studied and the operational definitions used in future research. The historical methodology has produced a substantial body of empirical research within the marketing discipline. As the diffusion research tradition matures, new approaches to measurement will be needed.

The traditional individual measures each focus on a particular major aspect of innovativeness. No one of these measures taken alone, however, addresses the multi-dimensionality of innovative behavior.

Additionally, except for research conducted at Purdue University, there has been little standardization of operational measures of innovativeness. As a result, direct cross-study comparisons are impeded.

The objective of this section of the paper is to highlight major conceptual issues which must be considered in constructing a more theoretically comprehensive measure of innovativeness. The following issues will be discussed:

1) the relative "earliness" of the individual's trial/ adoption;

2) the degree of commitment to the new concept: trial versus adoption;

3) the relevant "social system" to which the individual's behavior is compared;

4) the implications of the innovation itself for the individual;

5) the use of product specific versus cross product innovativeness measures.

Relative "Earliness" of the Individual's Trial/Adoption

The individual's time of trial/adoption is the empirical statistic which quantifies his specific trial/adoption behavior. The relative "earliness" of a respondent's trial/adoption of a new concept, however, has both behavioral and perceptual dimensions which time of trial/adoption alone does not measure.

The "earliness" of the trial/adoption behavior must be calculated around:

1) the actual level of penetration or adoption of the innovation in the individual's social system at the time of his trial/adoption behavior;

2) the individual's perception of the level of penetration of the innovation in his relevant social system;

3) the individual's expectations regarding future penetration of the new concept within his social system.

4) innovativeness as a continuous variable over the time dimension rather than as a dichotomous variable arbitrarily categorized by the researcher. The arbitrary dichotomous categories can significantly distort data analysis and interpretation.

The Degree of Commitment to the New Concept: Trial Versus Adoption

The degree of commitment to the new concept must be explicitly measured to differentiate between trial and adoption. Innovative behavior may involve either trial and rejection of the concept or trial and continued use of the innovation.

Failure to measure continued use of the innovation neglects this important dimension of innovative behavior. In the case of a detergent or packaged food product, initial trial involves very little eco-socio-psycho investment. Only continued use of the product reflects adoption. Even in the case of innovations requiring higher eco-socio-psycho investment for first trial, such as a new apparel fashion or a new birth control procedure, continued use must be a critical element in measuring innovative behavior

The Relevant Social System

The innovative behavior of the individual is related to the individual's personal social system. [Rogers, 1971 and Zaltman, 1971 have discussed innovative behavior in the frame work of social change and the social system.] The global or macro concept of social system, however, may confound the dynamics of innovative behavior.

Pragmatically, the individual is a member of a variety of micro or sub-social systems, e.g. his professional sub-system, his religious sub-system, his neighborhood sub-system, etc. Each of these sub-systems impinges upon his innovative behavior to differing degrees depending on the innovation context.

Operationally, in developing measurements of innovativeness, the major relevant macro-social system should first be identified. Next, the micro or sub-social systems most relevant to the particular innovation should be identified based on life style analysis. Within these micro units, the dynamics of innovative behavior should then be tracked.

The category of women's fashion apparel provides a simplistic example of this conceptualization. The innovation of hot pants has greatest relevance to the macro social system of younger women with self perceived attractive hips and legs. Within that macro system, several distinctly different sub-systems exist based on the women's life styles. In one sub-system exists the fashion apparel conscious set which leans toward avant garde' fashions. In another sub-system exists the fashion apparel conscious segment which leans toward more conservative classic silhouettes and styles. In still another sub-system exists the non-fashion conscious women for whom the hot pants fashion innovation would have little interest.

The central theme is that the identity of the innovator and the dynamics of the process of innovative behavior would vary trial and/or adoption of the hot pants innovation would vary dramatically across contrasting sub-social systems.

Implications of the Innovation for the Adopter

As implied in the previous section, the eco-socio-psycho implications-associated with trial/adoption of an innovation vary dramatically based on several dimensions:

1) the characteristics of the innovation itself in terms of perceived newness, complexity and comprehensibility, divisibility, visibility, structural radicalness, etc.;

2) the actual and perceived advantages and disadvantages associated with the adoption of the innovation;

3) the cultural compatibility or incompatibility of the innovation with various sub-social systems in the relevant macro social systems.

Historically, research identifying innovators and tracing the innovative process has not attempted to categorize innovations. Nor has research attempted to explore the differences in the innovative process across different types of innovations in different adoption sub-systems. [For a comprehensive discussion of the role of the innovation in the diffusion process, see Zaltman and Lin, 1971.]

Product Specific Versus Cross Product Innovative Behavior

Methodologically, scales of innovativeness based on trial/ adoption of multiple products or concepts have spanned a variety of forms. Scales have been based on trial/adoption behavior:

1) within one specific context e.g., men's suits;

2) across closely related contexts, e.g., women's clothing apparel fashions;

3) across relatively unrelated adoption contexts, e.g., cosmetics and food products.

Empirical research to date has indicated that innovative behavior within a context is directly related to the life style of the adopting micro-social system. Results have indicated that there is limited overlap of innovative behavior across product contexts except where products are closely related in terms of their interest and benefit characteristics, e.g., fashion apparel and cosmetics.

Therefore, if innovativeness scales are to be based on trial/adoption of multiple products, the measure should be confined to a single product category. Innovative behavior should be studied within narrowly defined adoption contexts and compared across contexts based on comparable research methodologies.


The traditional measures of innovativeness need to be theoretically and operationally broadened. A variety of conceptual issues should be integrated into the construction of a theoretically comprehensive measure of innovativeness. The development of this measure of innovative behavior is crucial to the maturation of a diffusion research tradition in marketing.


Coleman, J., E. Katz, and H. Menzel, "Diffusion of An Innovation Among Physicians," Sociometry, December, 1957, pp. 253-270.

King, Charles W., "The Innovator in the Fashion Adoption Process," in L. G. Smith (Ed.), Reflections in Marketing, Proceedings of the Winter Conference of the American Marketing Association, 1964, pp. 324-339.

King, Charles W. and Steven A. Baumgarten, "Fashion Adoption Among College Students: A Project Overview," Institute for Research in the Behavioral, Economic and Management Sciences, Number 292, Herman C. Krannert Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana. 1970.

King, Charles W. and Thomas E. Ness, "The Adoption and Diffusion of New Architectural Concepts Among Professional Architects," Institute for Research in the Behavioral, Economic and Management sciences, Number 235, Herman C. Krannert Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, 1969.

King, Charles W. and John 0. Summers, "The New Product Adoption Research Project," Institute for Research in the Behavioral, Economic and Management Sciences, Number 196, Herman C. Krannert Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, 1967.

Menzel, H. and E. Katz, "Social Relations and Innovations in the Medical Profession: the Epidemiology of A New Drug," Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume 19, 1956, pp. 337-352.

Robertson, T. S., The Effect of the Informal Group Upon Member Innovative Behavior," in R. L. King, (Ed.) Marketing and the New Science of Planning, Proceedings of the Fall Conference of the American Marketing Association, 1968, pp. 334-340.

Rogers, E. M., "Personality Correlates of the Adoption of Technological Practices," Rural Sociology, Volume 22, 1957, pp. 267-268.

Rogers, E. M. with F. S. Shoemaker, Communication of Innovations, New York: Free Press, 1971.

Tigert, Douglas J. and Stephen J. Arnold, "Profiling Self-Designated Opinion Leaders and Self-Designated Innovators Through Life Style Research," a paper presented at the Second National Conference, Association for Consumer Research, University of Maryland, September, 1971.

Zaltman, Gerald and Nan Lin, "On the Nature of Innovations," American Behavioral Scientist, May-June, 1971, pp. 651-673.

Zaltman, Gerald and Ronald Stiff, "Theories of Diffusion," a chapter to appear in Scott Ward and Thomas Robertson, (Eds.), Theoretical Perspectives in Consumer Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, (in press).



Charles W. King, Purdue University
George E. Ryan, Purdue University


SV - Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research | 1971

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