The Challenge of New Product Categories and New Technology in Consumer Marketing Research

New product categories, especially radical innovation of new technologies, pose consumer marketing research challenges.

Consumers tend cling to the familiar and are wary of the unknown.

People do not have experience with new product categories. There are no users, no customers… only prospects. This is especially true with new technologies that create radically new product categories.

The issue is consumers don’t have reference points about a new product category.

They have not tried it and have not thought about it. They don’t know it and don’t understand it. Evaluating their purchase intent towards the new category is tough, especially if the new category requires a major change in behavior and attitudes.

The Familiar is Comfortable and Sticky

Generally, consumers stick to what they know.

The value of an existing product or product category or way of doing things looms larger than the value of the unfamiliar. Most people are conservative when asked to change behavior in favor of the unknown.

Let’s jump in a time machine, and go back 1985 and ask people about mobile phones. The majority would give you a blank stare. The majority did not experience and understand the mobile phone category in 1985 because mobile phones were not prevalent. The industry was just beginning to grow.

So how do you moderate focus groups or depth interviews with respondents who don’t have new category experience? How do you develop consumer insights about new product innovations?

You look for related categories and problems consumers experience with the related category.

In 1985, pagers (beepers) were a common product category. Pagers received incoming messages or beeps, but users could not use pagers to make outgoing calls. Eventually mobile phones replaced pagers. In 1985, if you wanted to talk to people about mobile phones, you talked to pager users.

You search for user problems with existing product categories. You find unmet needs and wants by spotting important, unsolved problems. It is detective work.

Big and Bigger Benefits

If your new technology or product category delivers big benefits, opportunity knocks.

You need big benefits to win consumers over, and big benefits must be easy to communicate. The benefits must appear big or be big. They must attract attention and change attitudes and behavior.

Small changes in behavior are easier to achieve than big changes. Study behavior with an existing category. Estimate the new behavior required by the new category. Estimate the behavior gap between the old and new.

If the new behavior change is big, you’ll need big benefits.

You must judge if your new technology or product can solve important problems with big benefits. Are benefits big enough to change behaviors and attitudes? Qualitative consumer marketing research can help.

After spending millions, some large branded U.S. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) selling contract mobile services closed their doors. They could not get enough contract mobile phone users to switch from existing mobile phone service providers. Subscription uptake did not meet forecasts and plans.

The benefits of branded mobile media were not big enough change existing consumers’ attitudes and behavior. Also, MVNOs had trouble getting independent retail salespeople to recommend their service… it required a change in attitudes and behavior at the retail channel too. Retail sales reps stuck to what they knew…recommending and selling established mobile service operators.

Win the Consumer Marketing Research Challenge

So, look for existing user problems in consumer marketing research. They are opportunities for new technologies and categories.

Use focus groups and depth interviews to discover and explore consumer problems with existing categories. Then judge if your radical innovation and new category solution solves the problem.

Can you create a communications bridge from the existing category to the new category, illustrating large benefits?

If so, you may have a new category opportunity and winner.

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