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ColumnsEvaluating New Products Part 5: Selling the Invisible

Evaluating New Products Part 5: Selling the Invisible

Business Strategy
An image of Ken Wong

Ever wonder why in-store demonstrations and sampling are so effective? Most people believe it is a matter of drawing people’s attention to your offering. After all, the first step in any successful communications campaign is making the customer aware that you exist. In the case of food products, in-store demonstrations go beyond awareness to allow you to convey a key attribute that cannot be communicated any other way: taste.

Food products are typically sold and bought based on how they taste, and advertisers spend a fortune crafting creative ways to say or show the product “tastes good.” This is why most food ads fall back on some variation of “bite and smile”: an actor or celebrity eats or drinks the product, then looks into the camera and performs some expression of glee at the taste. But since the customer cannot “see,” “feel” or “hear” attributes like taste, the ad can do little more than make the promise: “try it; you will like it.”

In fact, prior to the moment of consumption, intangible attributes like taste, service and experience do not exist in any real form. Making it even more difficult is the fact that the moment of consumption and the circumstances that impact on the realized attribute are not controlled by the manufacturer. For example, beer companies spend tremendous amounts of time and cost in production and testing to ensure each batch has a consistent taste. Unfortunately, that taste may not be experienced by the consumer because taste is influenced by factors like what we recently ate, surrounding aromas and even our state of health: just think about how your sense of taste was distorted the last time you had a cold or flu.

So, what do you do? If food ads are a “promise,” great ads for new food products need to give consumers a “reason to believe.” The legendary Coke–Pepsi challenge was a way of saying “don’t take our word for it; here is what consumers say.” Modern-day influencers and product ratings are other means of providing allegedly third-party verification of the claim. Other approaches might talk about the source of the ingredients (see Loblaws ads featuring local farmers), the proprietary processes used to generate the taste or the post-product quality testing that is done. Ask yourself: “is there a compelling story that creates an aura of credibility about the claims?”

Keep in mind that new product acceptance is driven by four factors beyond communications. Attributes like “taste” cover only the “quality” of the offering (see Part 1 of this series in the April 2023 issue). It is equally important that you show the compatibility with consumer values (Part 2, July 2023 issue), ease of adoption (Part 3, August 2023) and the low level of consumer risk (Part 4, December 2023).

Remember this the next time you consider carrying a new product: it is one thing to have the potential to deliver a great product, but you must first give consumers a reason to believe.

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

[email protected]

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