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Evaluating New Products: Promoting the Right Things

Part four of a five-part series on how to decide on new product listings

By Ken Wong

Ever hear the expression “try it, you’ll like it”? I recently heard those words from a parent who was trying to convince their child to sample a new food. In the parlance of marketing, they were failing in the key task in launching a new product: gaining trial.

They appealed to reason and focused on communicating the new product’s positive qualities. They tried taking a taste, then expressing approval. They described the nutritious things in the food. They suggested the taste was similar to something the child liked. They even suggested it was favoured by the child’s hero (remember Popeye and spinach).

Earlier-published articles in this series have suggested the types of major characteristics that might provide consumers with a “reason to try.” For example, it would be reasonable to focus on characteristics like taste, convenience or nutritional value in promotions for a food product.

However, the fact a vendor makes a claim does not mean the consumer trusts the claim. As such, every time a consumer buys anything the first time, consciously or subconsciously, they are doing a “risk assessment.” There are two types of consumer risk that could result in an otherwise great product not getting trial; we almost always accommodate one of these but not the other.

  1. Risk of non-performance: If a product does not deliver on its “promises,” the consumer suffers a financial loss. This will be especially significant in times like the present, as high inflation and financial stress are causing consumers to question whether to buy anything from the product category, let alone their traditional brand. This is why we use “influencers,” distribute coupons, offer introductory price promotions, offer samples, do in-store demos and offer “the money-back guarantee” (to name a few). We are basically saying “you have nothing to lose.”

  2. Downstream consequences: However large the financial exposure from paying for a product’s non-performance, there may be downstream consequences of non-performance that are much more substantial. These are the second- and third-order consequences of product failure, whether they be financial, emotional or reputation-related. For example, would you be satisfied receiving a refund for six months of toothpaste if, as a result of non-performance, you experienced a dental disease that required dentures where teeth used to be? If you were hosting a dinner party, would you plan on serving something to your guests that you had never tried before? Providing consumers with reasons to buy lies at the heart of all marketing. However, when it comes to new products, we need to give equal attention to potential reasons not to buy. Otherwise, you may find yourself stocking a product that never lands in a consumer’s shopping cart.

Ken Wong is a distinguished professor of marketing at the Stephen J.R. Smith School of Business at Queen’s University

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