Beyond diffusion

Molly Flatt


What makes Old Spice Man such a success? Why is everyone suddenly talking about acai berries? And how come every woman worth her sartorial salt is currently rushing out to buy a camel coloured coat?

'How stuff spreads'. Over the past five years, those three words have come to represent the Holy Grail of marketing wisdom. As the rise of social media and peer-to-peer communication has put word-of-mouth at the centre of brand success, the science of stickiness has blossomed. But for all the books and the blogs, most social marketing is still based on a theory from 1962.

In Diffusions of Innovation, sociologist Everett Rogers defined the diffusion process, adapting the mathematical Bell curve to track how technological and scientific advances spread. Categorising people as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards, he visualised how knowledge is filtered down social networks from well-connected trailblazers to the mainstream masses. A few trusted influencers seeding ideas to their wider communities – sound familiar? Yes, Rogers’ theory has become the blueprint of marketing 2.0: find the big connector, give them a product, experience or piece of content, and watch it spread.