Is the Novelty of Your Product Really Its Most Appealing Quality?

When it comes to marketing your latest product or newest service, most marketers would follow a similar instinct: they would emphasize how fresh, innovative, and game-changing it is. In other words, they would focus on its novelty. In theory, the logic is pretty sound: we all love to get new things. Just think of how many people pounce on the latest iPhone with each hotly anticipated update, as well as our general cultural attitude of wanting everything to be better, faster, and newer.

But studies have shown that new products actually fail at a rate of between 40% and 90%, depending on the category. And the scary part? The odds pretty much haven’t changed in the past 25 years. In fact, about half of the companies who manage to create new product categories or completely revolutionize old ones actually pull out of those same businesses later on, usually thanks to demand trailing expectations.

This clash of perception and reality poses a tricky conundrum for the modern marketer: when should you focus on an innovative product’s novelty, and when do you peddle its improved familiarity? As anyone involved in market research could have already told you, the answer lies with the consumer. Researchers at Columbia Business School sought to investigate what, if any, psychological factors could act as barriers to new product acceptance. Their results reveal that a consumer’s desire for control over their lives changes their willingness to accept new products. The team performed three separate studies that collectively demonstrate how a consumer with higher desire for control—both as a personality trait and as a situational condition—can be less open to trying a product presented as new.

These findings expose an important contradiction that marketers must face when presenting an inventive product: our excitement for newness tempered by our love of comforting, predictable routine. Even as desire for control varies form person to person, a given consumer may experience different degrees of needing control in different context, like when they feel threatened versus encouraged. But the problem these nuances pose can be more easily solved with the help of consumer insights. Here are a few guiding suggestions for both quantitative and qualitative research that can help you figure out how to present your latest innovation.

  • Probe for openness by using the right metrics. We’ve already addressed the importance of determining how results will be measured against the goal of your study. But in order to gauge market acceptance of your new product, try expanding upon the crucial metric of purchase intent. Exploring your item or service’s potential to add value, replace an existing favorite, drive loyalty, and/or resonate personally with consumers could reveal any reluctance or aversion to change among your target audience.
  • Recreate routines to uncover established preference. The results of the research we’ve discussed also suggest that once a high-desire-for-control consumer becomes used to a certain experience, they may be hesitant to change their routine: an observation particularly relevant to services like bill payment or food ordering. Using projective techniques like recreating a scenario or describing a process gives respondents a chance to articulate their attitudes and behaviors relating to that experience, potentially revealing any preferences, pain points, and even power dynamics.
  • Consider segmental differences like culture, age, and region. Additional data uncovered by the researchers suggests there are cross-cultural and generational differences in desire for control and acceptance of new products. When introducing a product to multiple markets, it may be helpful to assess desire for control in each segment of your target market through direct investigation or related metrics.

Beyond directly asking respondents to assess their desire for control, these are just a few helpful ways to incorporate that scope into your research. And if your resulting market intelligence suggests a high desire for control among your target customers, consider reframing your communication strategy to explain how your new product or features can actually help consumers achieve a greater sense of control. For an example of how to evaluate a current service experience for openness to innovation, check out the executive summary below, exploring consumers’ behaviors and drivers as they pertain to digital banking.

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