By Ken Wong
One of the first lessons marketers learn is the fallacy around “build a better mousetrap.” It isn’t that the basic mousetrap is perfect: new and improved versions have offered the ability to reuse, are more humanitarian and safer to set. So why do basic mousetraps continue to massively outsell the “new and improved” product despite their failings?
Similarly, sous vide cooking has gained popularity in recent years. Sous vide cooking would clear the bar on the two previously discussed prerequisites for a new product’s success: it offers a clear advantage over the incumbent technologies (e.g., grilling, baking) and it aligns with the types of products one might expect from a food retailer. Despite this, while sous vide has grown in popularity, it remains a largely niche-oriented product used by so-called “foodies.”
These potentially “disruptive” technologies failed to gain widespread acceptance despite living up to their performance claims. At the same time is the success of other disruptors such as Uber, Amazon Prime and food offerings of a vegetarian or ethnic nature. This suggests performance improvements, while necessary for success, are not sufficient to generate success on their own.
This brings us to the third requirement for successful new products: a low complexity to adoption. The more numerous and complex the behavioural changes required to obtain a product’s benefits, the less likely it is to gain deep and rapid acceptance.
The nature of the behavioural change can be anything associated with purchase or usage. For example: where does one learn about the innovation (i.e., media selection)? Where in the store do we expect to find it? Does it require delivery? Does installation require training or is it DIY? Is special storage or handling required either in store or in home?
These types of considerations reflect the different promotions or other accommodations retailer management must exercise in the execution of the product’s launch given their store’s target market. For example, a refrigerated pet food might offer substantial nutritional benefits. However, its refrigerated nature means it is not located in the pet food aisle. This does not mean the innovation will fail. It does mean some form of accommodation or display – and thus additional costs – must be made at the store level based on who shops there, the proximity of competition, and physical characteristics of the store.
The more behavioural change we ask of consumers, the less attractive the new product will be to them. Similarly, the more behavioural change we need to offset, the more expensive and time consuming it will be to introduce the product.
Ken Wong is a distinguished professor of marketing at the Stephen J.R. Smith School of Business at Queen’s University