the adoption process
August 22, 1996

Adoption, in marketing terms, is “the acceptance and continued use of a product” (Lawson, Tidwell, Rainbird, Louden and Della Bitta, 1996). The adoption process refers to the sequence of behaviour that a consumer displays as they encounter a new product (Lawson et al, 1996). The adoption process consists of five discrete stages (Kotler, 1994):

  1. awareness - the consumer has heard of the product but knows little about it
  2. interest - the consumer seeks more information about the product
  3. evaluation - the consumer considers whether to try the product
  4. trial - the consumer tries the product
  5. adoption - the consumer decides to make “full and regular” use of the product

Lawson et al (1996) suggest that stage 3, evaluation, can be further broken down into “attitude” - the evolution of a distinct position on the worth of the product - and “legitimation” - when the consumer decides that the product is worth trying. This distinction serves to highlight the point where the adoption process for this particular product is either embraced or abandoned by the consumer.

However, this suggestion ignores the fact that the consumer is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the product, from the moment that awareness occurs, and then on until awareness ceases. Consequently, Figure 1 The adoption process has been designed to show the consumer’s ability to opt out of the adoption process at any stage.

implications for promotional activity

Early adopters are regular consumers of the product before most other people (Lawson et al, 1996). Early adopters are influential on other consumers, so early in the life of the product, promotional activity is directed at attracting the attention of potential early adopters (Kotler, 1994).

In general, promotion varies so as to encourage consumers to move to the next stage of the adoption process, by lowering the barriers at each stage (Kotler, 1994). The goals of new product promotion thus become to promote awareness, to stimulate interest, and to facilitate evaluation and trial.

Kotler (1994) makes mention of a group of consumers “stuck” in the interest stage, unwilling to attempt evaluation or trial due to prohibitive upfront capital costs: he suggests that the manufacturer offer a free trial. This is an example of lowering the barriers to the evaluation and trial stages. Another manufacturer, perhaps promoting an innovative kitchen utensil, might find that consumers are stuck in the awareness stage: they know of the product, but can’t see how it could be useful. This manufacturer might try stimulating interest by demonstrating the many uses of the utensil. This is an example of lowering the barriers to the interest stage.

In both cases, consumers are led to the next stage in the adoption process, by promotional strategies that make the progression as natural and painless as possible.

Lawson et al (1996) suggest that the adoption process is affected by the medium by which consumers receive the manufacturer’s promotional messages; mass-media is more useful for generating awareness and interest, but less useful for encouraging trial.

These findings reinforce the message that promotional strategies must be tailored to the likely position of consumers within the adoption process. This tailoring involves sensing where consumers are within the process, and adapting promotional material to best facilitate their movement to the next stage of the process.


Lawson, R., Tidwell, P., Rainbird, P., Louden, D., and Della Bitta, A. (1996), Consumer Behaviour in Australia and New Zealand, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Sydney

Kotler, P. (1994), Marketing Management, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, USA