Unfreezing Consumers to Heat Up New Product Sales!

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Companies have long assumed that if they build a better mousetrap and effectively communicate the benefits, consumers will come. Most companies’ efforts, therefore, are centered on the development and optimization of new products and/or services. Developing a superior product, however, is only half the picture. For a new product/service to be adopted, consumers have to be willing to part with an existing product/service/behavior. This is easier said than done, even when the new product or service is clearly superior.

Barriers to change

The problem: people are generally averse to change. A successful new product launch, therefore, is not only about attracting consumers to the new product/service but also about overcoming psychological barriers that cause them to stay with their existing solution. To illustrate this visually, I share a simple but powerful framework from Chris Spiek of the Rewired Group on what needs to be considered for the successful adoption of new products.

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Figure 1. A Framework on New Product/Service Adoption

This framework considers four major forces that act on the consumer. Two of the forces move the consumer towards the new product/service (top two arrows) whereas the remaining two forces move the consumer towards staying with the existing solution (bottom two arrows). Most companies and market research focus on moving consumers towards the new product/service.

Force 1: Problems

We start with “Problems.” This force pushes consumers towards new solutions. This is about problems that consumers face with existing solutions. For a laundry detergent product, it may be the product’s inability to remove food stains. For a laptop, it may be the battery that lasts only for a day. In general, it is a sense that things are not quite right, and that a better state can be achieved.

Force 2: Attraction of New

The second force that moves consumers towards new products/services, “Attraction of New,” is what most companies focus on: that is, determining the best features or bundle of benefits to offer consumers and communicating those benefits effectively.

I should make it clear that I am not advocating that less effort should be directed towards the force “Attraction of New.” It is an essential element that needs to be considered and acted upon to deliver a successful new product.  However, a focus on this force to the exclusion of the other forces will limit the success of the new product.

Force 3: Anxiety of New

It is the two forces that compel a consumer to remain with their existing solution that I want to focus on. More often than not, we do not examine or understand these two forces. For the force “Anxiety of New,” consumers may be apprehensive about trying the new product even if they like it. For example, consumers may have concerns the new product lacks benefits the current product has. So while the shiny new product may offer a host of benefits, the consumer may still be thinking about all the other benefits that their existing product offers but is not available in the new product.

Take the somewhat outdated flip-cell phone, for example. When owners of such phones are asked about why they have not switched to a more modern phone, many of these owners state that they like the size of their flip-phone, and it fits into their purses/pockets easily compared to the new larger mobile phones today. What is important to note is that these consumers are focusing on what they will lose by switching to the new products. They are not focused on the benefits of the new products. These “losses” loom large in the eyes of these owners. In behavioral economics, this is often termed loss aversion. We know from many academic studies that losing something weighs more on our decision than gaining something.

Force 4: Habit

Finally, there is the force of “Habit.” In general, people do not like to change their current behavior. We are comfortable with what we have and/or what we have been doing for a long time. Habit, hence, is about the emotional energy attached to what has been done for a long time. To address this, we need to understand what’s comfortable about the existing product/solution and help consumers work through that comfort. We also need to direct consumers away from the comfort of their existing state to the push of the situation (i.e., flip-phone does not allow them to connect with their loved ones easily via, for example, Apple’s FaceTime Application).

The framework and examples shared illustrate that if we want consumers to buy a new product, it is not just about convincing them the new product is better and will help solve problems. It will also require efforts to understand what consumers may have to give up when they stop using their current solution and what emotional energy they have attached to their existing solution or product. Only when all four forces have been addressed will we be able to optimize the success of a new product launch.