The June issue of the Harvard Business Review has an interesting article describing some of the latest findings in the psychology of new-product adoption (here – can be purchased or requires subscription).
According to the author, Prof. John Gourville, there are a few psychological biases in decision making that need to be considered when using Everett Rogers’ “relative advantage” as a measure for successful product adoption.
Gains and losses:
First off, people evaluate attractiveness of new products and services not on an objective scale, but on a subjective/perceived scale which is based on products they already own. Every benefit of the new product compared to the new one is considered a gain, and every shortcoming is considered a loss. The kicker is that potential buyers give losses a much bigger weight than gains in their decision making process. In fact, multiple studies have shown that gains have to outweigh losses 3:1 before customers will adopt the new product or service.
The endowment effect:
Because of this loss aversion, people value what they have more than what they don’t have. In fact, multiple studies have shown that people demand 2-4 times more compensation to give up products that they already possess than they are willing to pay for those same items in the first place!
Status quo bias:
The status quo bias explains why people tend to stick with what they already have, even when a better alternative exists. Studies have shown that the extend of loss aversion grows over time from a factor 2 to 4 – meaning that people’s pain perception of giving up something increases over time and reduces their willingness to trade up.
But that is not all! Not only are consumers overvaluing losses and existing benefits of entrenched products by a factor 3, sellers are also overvaluing the benefits of their innovations by a factor 3. That makes the mismatch between what innovators think consumers desire and what consumers really want 9 to one!
So what is one to do? The author has a few suggestions. Come up with products that contain few product changes and require little behavioral changes and you will end up with an “easy sell.” If your new product has considerable product changes compared to the incumbents – make sure that they require little behavioral changes. By doing so you may end up with a “smash hit.” A high degree of product change combined with a high degree of behavioral change is much like the TIVO and those innovations are “long hauls.” Doomed out of the gate are those new products with little product changes that require a high degree of behavioral change.