Why you shouldn’t stop advertising even after the sale

A rather tricky issue in marketing is consumer adoption of a new product. After all, consumers reject more new kinds of product than adopt them. For every successful iPhone, there have been these hundreds of kitchen appliances that sold no more than a few hundred units. There are a lot of things lying around my house, used once or twice, then abandoned.

Why does this happen? When should we decide that the product has failed and we should give up marketing it? And how can we come to know that it is the product that failed, and not the marketing strategy? A maker with a lot of faith in his product might end up spending crore after crore, going from agency to agency before he finally accepts the product is not getting accepted. On the other hand, a promising product may be yanked off sooner than people have really got time to try it out and adopt it.

Now research published in the Journal of Consumer Research may provide some clues. The conclusions of the study are that people tend to overestimate themselves first, then when they fail, become overly pessimistic.

The team gave a group of test subjects a few tasks to do – like typing on a new kind of keyboard. (Attempts at replacing the QWERTY arrangement of keys with more favorable ones have notoriously failed). Or a harder task like drawing a picture by looking at the original – except you had to look in the mirror where it was inverted. The subjects believed that they could actually do it, perhaps in the first try even.

But when they actually set out to do it, they tended to falter and didn’t do as well as expected. And that seemed to have a profound effect on their morale.

They were asked to estimate themselves, and guess the number of times they’d have to practice to get it right. And interestingly, they underrated themselves, suggesting a large number of trials. When they actually practiced again, it took them fewer attempts or less time to master the task than they expected.

So the lesson is, if you’ve got a product, the customer may not understand it at first go (which is often at the short demo they get at the point-of-sale). Complex electronic goods like smartphones certainly take time getting used to. Without much encouragement or support, a customer might decide to buy a lower grade, simpler instrument. Especially so, if cost is a factor and the peer pressure to keep-up-with-the-Joneses is not there. The consequence being that your higher-end instrument might never pick up enough sales momentum. I guess that explains why so many ‘primitive’ phones are still around.

The advertiser might then have an incentive to engage more with the customer, helping them learn to use the various bells and whistles*. Perhaps a series of post-sales roadshows or how-to e-mailers? (Like, “Now that you’ve got a brand new smartphone, let’s show you a few tricks that’ll make you the envy of your friends”). Or a website that they can visit and learn a trick a day.

Engagement with a customer who just bought your goods, may be beneficial in the long run as they are a good source of recommendations for your product, helping sales pick up in the long run.

*A term used by electronics engineers to describe additional features on a phone or laptop, like alarm clock, calendar, etc apart from the voice and message features.

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About ozymandias

What am I? A body and brain, products of carbon concatenation chemistry, an intelligence and conscience to enable bits of DNA evolve. Maybe a pharaoh, maybe a dung-beetle, never more than a safe conduit for some genes.
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