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ASU research finds how marketing can spark 'deep thinking' in consumers

'Mismatch' messaging can lead customers to identify more with products


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October 25, 2019

Would you buy an outdoor water fountain for your dog? Or a bendable power strip? Or a coffee table with a built-in refrigerator?

Those are some of the entrepreneurial projects looking for consumer support to get launched, thanks to online platforms like Quirky and Indiegogo.

This process, called “co-created innovation,” depends on catching the interest of customers who are bombarded with products every day. One way to get the message across is by sharing a personal story. For example, the dog fountain inventor came up with the idea after the family dog became dehydrated.

Marketing is a crucial part of selling a product, and a recent study by Arizona State University researchers has found that sharing a personal story, called a “genesis story,” works — but in an unexpected way.

Sungho Park, associate professor of marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business, said that the research teamBesides Park, the team included Helen Si Wang, who was a PhD student in the W. P. Carey School of Business when she began the research and is now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Hong Kong, as well as Charles H. Noble, the Henry Professor of Business and associate dean for research and faculty in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, and Darren W. Dahl, senior associate dean and director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. looked at co-created innovation platforms, like Quirky and Indiegogo. Those platforms have different models. Quirky matches inventors with existing companies, and Indiegogo crowdsources investment money. 

“The customer-inventor and the platform work together to develop a marketable product out of the customer-inventor’s idea,” he said. “There’s a trial where they produce a limited number of products and see whether this is accepted, and if it looks successful, they will move onto mass manufacturing.”

Even big corporations, like Starbucks, LEGO and Pepsi, crowdsource ideas from their customers.

One problem is that a lot of startup products fail. According to the research paper, published in the Journal of Marketing, about 80% of smartphone apps do not generate enough revenue to survive for more than a few months, and Quirky withdrew 70% of its more than 500 products when they failed to sell.

“Of course in the introduction period, they spend a lot of marketing budget on advertising or promotions, so there is a lot of uncertainty there,” Park said.

So the research team looked at marketing strategies for co-created innovation products to see which worked best. They looked at two kinds of marketing and two ways to frame a message.

“Traditional or standard marketing would have the basic information like ratings, price and a description,” Park said.

“The user-generated content is the genesis story. In most platforms, they provide the story of why the customer-inventor developed this. It’s more personal.”

Previous research has shown that the two ways to frame a marketing message are “approach,” which emphasizes the good things about a product such as attractiveness and usefulness, and “avoidance,” which shows how a product can avoid something negative by minimizing or solving a problem.

Using different research methods and backing up the results with sales data, the team ran five studies and discovered that the most successful marketing message was a “mismatch” — or combining an “approach” genesis story with “avoidance” messaging.

For example, one of the studies involved asking people outside a Tempe campus Starbucks whether they would try a new coffee product — Starbucks Doubleshot Mexican Mocha. They were shown two types of marketing. Both types included a “genesis story” of the creator, who invented the product to be reminded of a Mexican grandmother. That’s an “approach” message. Then they were also shown one of two other messages: buy the coffee product to “embrace winter warmth” (approach) or buy the product to “say bye-bye to winter chill” (avoidance).

People who saw a “mismatched” message (Mexican grandmother reminder and “bye-bye to winter chill”) were more likely to try the coffee.

So why would that work? The reason is that a “mismatched” message stimulates the consumer to think harder, and more thinking leads to “self-referencing,” or “how does this product relate to me?”

“In consumer behavior or psychology, if there exists some mismatch, oftentimes it will boost internal processing,” Park said.

“It’s not contradictory, but the different framing stimulates consumers and makes them process a little deeper.”

In another study, the subjects were shown a flexible power strip on Quirky and asked to write down reasons why they would buy the product. The group shown mismatched messaging about the power strip wrote down a longer list of reasons.

“That means people processed a little bit deeper or tried to reflect more, and that boosted their intention about this product,” Park said.

There was one caveat: This self-referencing works better if the consumer is new to the product category.

“So if you’re an expert in this area, this is less effective. But if you’re a novice to this category, then this mismatch strategy works much better,” Park said.

The team also looked at sales data of products and compared that to the messaging, and found that products with mismatched marketing messaging not only sold more but also were quicker to reach the “takeoff” point of a sales surge.

“There are a lot of interesting things we can do when we use an observed data set (like sales), but the underlying mechanism, why we observe this type of consumer behavior, is a little bit more difficult to explain using observed data only,” Park said.

“So we decided to use this mixed method, which is quite unique.”

Top image by Pixabay

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