Special Session Summary Learning of New Products: Moving Ahead By Holding Back

Paschalina (Lilia) Ziamou, Rutgers University
Jennifer Gregan-Paxton, University of Delaware
[ to cite ]:
Paschalina (Lilia) Ziamou and Jennifer Gregan-Paxton (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Learning of New Products: Moving Ahead By Holding Back", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 365-367.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 365-367



Paschalina (Lilia) Ziamou, Rutgers University

Jennifer Gregan-Paxton, University of Delaware


Within the current environment of fast-paced technological change, the marketplace features an ever-growing array of highly innovative new products. A notable feature of these innovations is the extensive lag between initial commercialization of the new product and take-off in sales (Lehmann 1994; Tellis 1994). The slow adoption rates experienced by many innovative products can be at least partially explained by the difficulties faced by consumers as they attempt to understand what the new product is and what benefits and applications it offers (Leonard-Barton 1994).

Although it is generally agreed that consumers face special challenges as they attempt to understand these novel innovations (Hirschman 1980), surprisingly little research has focused on understanding the unique learning process inherent to innovative products. What little we do know comes from studies that have focused on innovations which are relatively continuous. This work suggests that consumers rely heavily on existing knowledge when constructing their initial understanding and judgments of a new product (Dickerson and Gentry 1983). However, when it comes to truly innovative products, individuals generally lack existing knowledge structures that can be invoked to make judgments about the innovations. In addition, established frames of reference are likely to be obsolete (e.g., Fusco 1994; Olshavsky and Spreng 1996). It is currently unclear how consumers learn under these special conditions.

The purpose of this session was to bring together researchers who are currently investigating the unique kind of learning that occurs when consumers encounter highly innovative new products. Specifically, the papers in this session addressed the following questions regarding learning about radical innovations:

1.  How is learning influenced by the degree of newness of the product?

2.  How does the use of a curiosity-evoking ad strategy influence the process and outcome of learning?

3.  How is learning influenced by the structure of new product information?

In the first paper entitled "The Effect of the Degree of Newness of a "Really New" Product on Consumers’ Judgments", published in this volume, Ziamou focused on the impact of the degree of newness of a technology-based "really new" product on consumers’ responses. The author proposed a theoretical framework to classify technology-based innovations based on their degree of newness and identify highly innovative technology-based products. Furthermore, the author presented theoretical propositions deriving from the conceptual framework and explaining how consumers respond to "really new" technology-based products.

The second paper, "Harnessing the Power of Curiosity for Effective Advertising of New Products" by Menon and Soman focused on the effects of arousing curiosity in advertising new product categories. The authors demonstrated that curiosity (i.e., providing incomplete information about the new product in initial ads) can have a multi-dimensional impact that is particularly effective for new products B it can incite consumers’ desire for product knowledge, guide their search for specific types of new product information, and influence their memory and knowledge structures for the new product.

The third paper, "The Structure of Knowledge About Options in New Product Learning" by Zhang focused on how consumers acquire new product knowledge and make preference judgents for brands in a new product category. Specifically, the focus here was on how consumers learn about the new product when they are given a clear attribute structure information vs. they are given expert recommendations. This paper also examined the impact of previous knowledge on consumers’ judgments.




Paschalina (Lilia) Ziamou, Rutgers University

In the last decade, rapid and radical technological developments in computer and telecommunications industries spurred the emergence of radical technological innovations. Highly innovative products present unique marketing challenges and researchers have highlighted the importance of understanding how consumers respond to highly innovative products. The purpose of this paper is two-fold: First, it proposes a theoretical framework to classify technology-based innovations based on their degree of newness and identify highly innovative technology-based products. The conceptual framework suggests that from the consumer’s perspective, innovations can be viewed as lying along two dimensions: (a) the functionality of the innovation (i.e., what the product does), and (b) the consumer’s input (i.e., what he/she needs to do to obtain the expected functionality). These two dimensions lead to four distinct types of innovations that vary in their degree of newness. Second, the author presents theoretical propositions deriving from the conceptual framework and explaining how consumers respond to "really new" technology-based products.



Satya Menon, University of Chicago

Dilip Soman, University of Colorado at Boulder

In this research, we examine the effects of arousing curiosity in advertising new products that customers do not yet fully understand or appreciate. An important managerial objective during the introduction of a new product is to ensure that consumers learn its distinctive new benefits and attributes, and acquire the appropriate knowledge structure for the new brand. In addition, it is important that the new brand be recognized as a distinct new category member rather than be subsumed into the schema of existing product types, in order to gain the status and associated advantages of being a pioneer (Carpenter and Nakamoto 1989).

Traditionally, curiosity in advertising has been considered an important motivational variable for eliciting interest and deeper processing of a message. Yet there are few studies in marketing which have explicitly examined the impact of curiosity on product-related learning. In this research, we show that a curiosity-based advertising strategy can have a multi-dimensional impact on processing that is particularly effective for new products. First, evoking curiosity about novel or unexpected aspects of a new product would incite consumers’ desire for product knowledge and lead to greater information search. A second effect arises from the elaboration process that is stimulated by curiosity. It leads the individual to generate hypotheses regarding the object of curiosity (e.g., "What is it?" or "How can that be?" questions; see Fazio, Herr and Powell 1992). This elaboration aggravates curiosity by combining the desire to know the solution with the desire to know if one’s self-generated hypotheses are correct (Loewenstein 1994). In addition, when subsequent information becomes available, the individual may implicitly review the information to examine its degree of fit with self-geerated hypotheses. This "reprocessing" of the message would likely lead to better recall and better comprehension of the new information (O’Brien and Myers 1985). A third effect of curiosity comes from its goal-orientation in elaboration, information acquisition and memory organization. The theme underlying curiosity (e.g., an unexpected new feature) may act as the perceptual pivot for processing and organizing product information (Huffman and Houston 1993).

We also hypothesized that when a curiosity ad provides no clue about the product class (e.g., teaser ads), elaboration is focused on answering the "what" question, whereas a curiosity ad that reveals a product class clue generates "how" questions. The lack of a product class cue makes it relatively difficult for people to generate richer predictions about the source of their curiosity, or elaborate on more specific product-related relationships. Hence, there may not be the same level of eagerness to receive more detailed information as in a curiosity ad that provides a product cue.

Our experiment was presented in a simulated internet environment and was designed to track differences in the processing of advertisements for a new product, a digital camera, when a curiosity-based strategy is used and when a 'full-information’ strategy is used. The advertisements were presented in the context of an electronic magazine and were designed to be interactive, allowing us to track processing time as well as extent and nature of information acquisition from the ads. We studied three advertising strategies in a between-subjects designCtwo curiosity ads, one revealing the product class cue and another without it, and a control ad. The control ad used the same curiosity evoking headline, but provided full product information in the same ad. In addition, we used two different product features to manipulate curiosity in order to test for differences in the goal-orientation that is associated with curiosity. Preliminary analysis of data from 150 subjects showed significant differences across the three message formats in terms of several process measures as well as in learning and product evaluation.



Shi Zhang, UCLA

We demonstrate that when given a set of options, structured conceptual representations of the relational properties (henceforth attribute structure) among options, are weighted more in preference judgment than preference information about particular properties of the options (henceforth preference structure). Furthermore, we demonstrate, that for novices in a new product category, it is necessary to have both types of structure knowledge in order to recognize and prefer superior late entrants. However, having neither type of structure knowledge exhibits the classic behavior of preferring the earlier entrant. These results have implications for understanding brand preference formation and for new product entry strategies.

We suggest that comparisons among options, allow consumers to form structured relational representations (commonalties, alignable differences and nonalignable differences). Using attribute descriptions as operationalizations of alignability, we created brands of electronic organizers, each of which is made up of the three types of features. One group of subjects were given passages containing attribute structure information, i.e. functional information that allows subjects to form representations of relational structures of features among brands. The other group of subjects were given preference structure information, i.e. experts recommendations for an ideal set of features. Subjects then were shown information about the brands of organizers. Those given the attribute structure recalled more alignable differences, which allowed them to prefer superior late entrants. In contrast, those given the preference structure had equal preference for the brnds, and those given neither structure preferred the first entrant.



Deborah Roedder John, University of Minnesota

The discussion leader summarized the presentations and then presented a framework of learning situations to guide future research on new product learning. In her summary, Roedder John noted that the papers in this session point to two general categories of variables that influence consumer learning about new products. The first, characteristics of the consumer, includes motivation, curiosity, and knowledge. The second, characteristics of the product, includes newness of the product, the amount of information provided about the product, and the product’s attribute structure.

Providing direction for future research, Roedder John pointed out that the study of new product learning encompasses two distinct learning situations. The first form of learning she described is that which occurs when a consumer encounters an established product category for the first time. In this situation, the product category is new to the consumer, but not new to the world (e.g., a consumer’s first stereo purchase). It is the type of learning that has been the focus of a majority of prior consumer learning research. The second form of learning is that which occurs when a consumer first encounters an entirely new product category. In this case, the product category is new to the consumer and new to the world (e.g., a consumer purchasing WebTV). The papers in this session extend the study of consumer learning by considering how consumer learning proceeds in this type of situation. Drawing on the distinction between these two forms of learning, Roedder John poised an important question to the audience: How does learning differ in these two situations? In other words, does the learning process differ when an unfamiliar consumer (i.e., a novice) encounters an already established product versus a "really new" product? Is the "really new" designation relevant to future research on new product learning?


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