New New or Kinda New

We are sold the idea by tech companies that their products will make our lives simpler, less complex, more structured. Hell, you might even become more fashionable. Living will be easy. They exhaust extensive resources researching the most efficient processes to separate you from your money. They collect your data, crunch the numbers, categorize you, and then target you with advertising that reflects your interests. They want to build a personal relationship between you and their product, but they don’t want to waste resources selling you the wrong product.

It can be a costly business when consumers don’t buy your latest and greatest product. Microsoft has learned this lesson a few times over, but most recently with Windows 8. There is also the potential backlash if your new products are not different enough from the old ones, as some complained about new Apple products after the death of Steve Jobs. Identifying consumers who prefer incrementally new products (INPs) over really new products (RNPs), and vice-versa, could mean the difference between massive profits or massive losses.

A research team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, led by Jun San Kim, investigated consumer acceptance of new products. Specifically, the researchers were interested in evaluating the moderating role of personal need for structure (PNS) on consumers’ acceptance of INPs and RNPs. According to the research team, PNS refers to the different ways people simplify and order their environment. People with a high need for structure tend to be decisive, confident, and become uncomfortable when structure is absent; whereas people with low-PNS are original, imaginative, and open to experiences.

Kim’s team conducted two studies: Study 1 assessed the relationships between consumer PNS types and their acceptance of INPs and RNPs; Study 2 looked at consumer knowledge and new product adoption.

Study 1 consisted of 144 undergraduate students (40 percent female) who were asked to assume the role of a new university student in need of replacing their old laptop. They were provided with a booklet that contained either an INP or RNP laptop advertisements. The INP laptop was outfitted with the latest technology and the RNP laptop had dual touchscreens without a keyboard. The advertisement were pretested by 36 graduate students for newness of the laptops advertised. They rated the RNP laptops newer than the INP ones. After viewing the ads, the undergraduate students then answered two questionnaires rating the laptops’ favourability and newness. They also completed a PNS questionnaire.

The results of Study 1 showed that low-PNS participants preferred RNP to INP and high-PNS participants preferred INP over RNP. However, the results were not statistically significant. Kim’s team concluded that “consumers who are chronically less inclined to structure and simplifying the environment may evaluate RNPs higher than INPs.”

Study 2 consisted of 145 undergraduate students (27 percent female) who were asked to assess an existing product (a mouse) and two fictitious products: a touch sensor that was attached to the tip of a finger and acted like a touchpad and it was called the “Touch-ball” (this was the INP); the RNP was also a fictitious product called “Fingertip” where users could control their laptop by moving their fingers in the air. Participants were provided with product details and then answered questionnaires assessing the product’s favourability, newness, PNS, and the participant’s knowledge of computer interfaces.

Study 2 results revealed that PNS did not play a role in the assessment of INP versus RNP in participants who scored high on computer knowledge. On the other hand, participants who scored low on computer knowledge did reveal some differences. High-PNS participants did prefer INP over the mouse and RNP, and low-PNS participants preferred RNP over INP.

Kim’s team recommends that marketing companies collect data on consumer product knowledge and PNS when advertising INPs and RNPs. That is, market INPs to customers with high-PNS and RNPs to customers with low-PNS. However, it is important to note that the participants were undergraduate students and they might not be representative of the general population.

Kim’s research demonstrates how your information can and will be used to encourage you to upgrade your technology, and keep you in a consumer cycle for as many cycles as possible. Yes, technology has been extremely helpful to all aspects of life, but there has to be balance. We don’t need the latest smartphone or laptop when the old one works just fine. I don’t even own a smartphone. Mine’s an old dumb phone with a landline. For the sake of your pocket book and your happiness, be aware of how advertising pushes your buttons and how that makes you feel. Remember, objects only provide short-term happiness; experiences have a longer happiness shelf life.

Rodney Steadman 02 March 2015

Works Cited

Kim J, Hahn M, & Yoon Y (2015). The Moderating Role of Personal Need for Structure on the Evaluation of Incrementally New Products versus Really New Products. Psychology & Marketing, 32 (2), 144-161 DOI: 10.1002/mar.20769

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