Communication Patterns and the Diffusion of a Consumer Innovation: Preliminary Findings


John H. Holmes (1971) ,"Communication Patterns and the Diffusion of a Consumer Innovation: Preliminary Findings", 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: 459-463.

Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1971     Pages 459-463


John H. Holmes, Bowling Green State University

The pioneering studies on opinion leadership conducted by sociologists have prompted both marketing theoreticians and practitioners to more closely examine interpersonal communication and personal influence in the diffusion of innovations (Rogers 1962, and Arndt 1968).

The present investigation focussed on the diffusion of cable television in Bowling Green, Ohio. It was undertaken to shed additional light on the role people played in the acceptance of a recently introduced consumer service and specifically considered (a) the extent to which adopters and non-adopters engaged in interpersonal communication, and (b) the number of individuals who were influenced as a result of this communication.

It is believed that the preliminary findings reported in this paper may prove helpful to firms introducing new products and services as well as adding to the existing body of diffusion literature.


The environment in which the study was conducted was unique because of two factors: (1) The Wood Television Corporation held the exclusive franchise to provide cable service, and (2) the size of the market was precisely known. Twenty-eight percent of the households in the city had adopted the service during the twenty months following the innovation's introduction.

Prior to and during this time the company sponsored various promotions. The first, held eight months before the introduction, consisted of a coupon advertisement in the city's only newspaper. Five hundred and twenty individuals responded; unfortunately 428 had to be returned because of a legal entanglement which delayed the erection of the cable in certain neighborhoods. A three month newspaper campaign was begun two days prior to the first installation. After a six month hiatus a second three month campaign was undertaken. Handbills were distributed to occupants residing in cable areas. At the beginning of the second market year, a six week word-of-mouth promotion was initiated. This effort netted 105 subscriptions, and seventy-nine subscribers received one or more "free" months of service as payment for their assistance.


At the conclusion of the twentieth month--the time at which the current study was begun--the residential cable television market could be segmented into adopters and two categories of non-adopters as shown in Table 1 on the next page. The ninety-eight potential subscribers and the ninety-four residents living in non-cable areas were chosen at random from the city's street directory. Four hundred and thirty-four of the 498 subscribers were obtained from a time ordered list provided by the company, and the remaining sixty-four were obtained through sociometric procedures conducted in order to validate the transmission of influence (Coleman, Katz and Menzell, 1957).



In addition to answering demographic questions, all subjects excepting those who subscribed in the first month additionally responded to numerous and specific questions concerning their conversations about cable television, and the extent to which they had influenced others to subscribe. Questions pertaining to the flow of communication were open-ended and administered without any type of recall.

In this study interpersonal communication had been defined as the exchange of information or advice about an innovation between individuals. As such it was bi-directional and included both the volunteered and solicited transmission of ideas.


Subjects from all three populations were homogeneous in terms of levels of education and occupation, but home ownership was significantly greater among subscribers.

Interpersonal Communication and Personal Influence

Three hundred and fifty-six or 76% of the subscribers who had been asked about their conversations about the service admitted having volunteered information or having had one or more individuals ask them about it. These subscribers talked about the service with more than 3,800 individuals. No attempt was made to measure the extent of overlap within this interpersonal network.

Notwithstanding, the mean average of 8.3 contacts per subscribing household was significantly greater than the 1.3 contacts per potential subscriber as well as the 0.7 obtained from other respondents.

The names and addresses of both influentials and alleged influencees had been obtained from the initial sample. One hundred and seventy-seven subscribers (38%) claimed that they had influenced 352 others. Nine of the potential subscribers claimed they had influenced twenty-one individuals. And two of the respondents from non-cable areas reported they had influenced three others. In total, subjects from all three samples had allegedly influenced 376 individuals to subscribe. Sociometric interviewing made it possible to verify this transmission of influence.

It was disappointing to learn that only 45% of those who had allegedly been influenced were actually subscribing. Nevertheless, the interviewing identified a total of eighty-seven dyads where the flow of influence was clearly established. In fifty-nine of these cases the influential was identified as a subscriber to the service.

A further analysis of the data, as illustrated in Table 2, produced the following relationship between the number engaged in interpersonal communication and the transmission of influence. Although there was a positive association, the number who influenced two others was so small that claims do not seem warranted.



Early Adopters as Sources of Influence

To determine if the influentials were concentrated among the early adopters the data were grouped into nine three month periods according to time of adoption.

Table 3 shows, as had been hypothesized, that (a) early subscribers were more frequently identified as influentials, and (b) that a significantly higher percentage of early adopters transmitted influence as compared with those who adopted later in time.



Direction of Influence

Twenty-seven of the eighty-seven influencees stated that they had sought advice about the service. Cross classification analyses indicated (a) that a significantly greater proportion of these "seekers" turned toward those who had previously subscribed to the service, and (b) that influencees whose date of adoption would label them as members of the "early majority" were somewhat more prone to solicit opinions than were those who would be categorized as "innovators" or "earls adoPters."


The preliminary findings reported here have demonstrated the existence of a powerful interpersonal network in which the transmission of influence originated with both the influential and the influencee. In view of these results, it appears that companies introducing new products and services should consider interpersonal communication and personal influence in preparing their own promotional efforts. Sponsored communication can complement the interpersonal network in one or more of the following ways. First, the firm may be able to forestall "opinion seeking" through more informative advertising. Second, the company can cultivate "opinion giving" by getting present users more personally involved with the innovation. Finally, the company can help to legitimatize the innovation for later adopters by including the real or implied endorsement of product related authorities in their promotions.


Arndt, J. Word of mouth advertising. New York: Advertising Research Foundation. Inc., 1967.

Coleman, J., E. Katz and H. Menzel. The diffusion of an innovation among physicians. Sociometry, December, 1957, 20, 253-270.

Rogers, E. M. Diffusion of innovations. New York: The Free Press, 1962.



John H. Holmes, Bowling Green State University


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

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