Dear Colleagues:

I recently came across academic research on consumer behavior that I thought would be of interest to my many product marketers and communicators readers. According to Georgetown University's Debora Thompson, consumer perception of how frequently a product will be used can heavily influence purchase decisions, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

Read on to learn more about how these research findings should inform how you communicate with your customers.



In This Issue
Communicating about Product Usage Frequency
Lessons for Marketers
Customer Segmentation

... the way marketers communicate to consumers about a product's frequency of use will have a significant impact on their determination of the product's relevance for themselves."

- Debora Thompson,
Georgetown University

Communicating Product Value to Consumers:
Relative Frequency

Communicating about Product Usage Frequency

A study recently conducted by Debora Thompson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, indicates that the way marketers communicate to consumers about a product's frequency of use will have a significant impact on their determination of the product's relevance for themselves. While marketers may intuitively wish to assure potential customers that they will use a new product often - thus getting their money's worth - Thompson concludes that consumers who read an ad talking about experiencing benefits daily might be less motivated to purchase the product than consumers who read about experiencing the benefits weekly.

Thompson's study tested consumer reaction to print ads, customer reviews, and surveys designed for a variety of products such as fitness shoes (in the example above), grills and video games. The ads included copy that manipulated usage frequency, testing consumer reaction to copy that read "How will you stay active today (this week)?" And "The new 780 Fitness Collection is ready for your toughest workouts every day (every week)." The customer reviews reported either a high frequency (every day) or low frequency (every week) usage pattern and the surveys used response scales that implied high frequency (less than once a week to at least once a day) or low frequency (less than once a year to at least once a week).

Participants reported on how frequently they thought they would use the product relative to others who buy the product, how often they think they would use it, and how much they think they would use it.

Perceived Relative Frequency of Use. Those who were exposed to high frequency information (e.g., daily use) believed that their own use of the product relative to others would be lower than those who received the low frequency information (e.g., weekly use).

Interest in the Product. Ads, customer reviews and response scales suggesting lower frequency of use significantly increased participants' interest in the product.

Lessons for Marketers

Some advertisers are concerned that by inferring through copy that use is not frequent that consumers might assume it does not have a very high value. Said differently, if I use it a lot it will be very valuable to me. However, that is not the case. High frequency information gives people a reference point, so a high usage reference point is only good if you reason to believe that your consumer audience involves their self-perception as a frequent user.

The only group of people that Thompson's study found not to react negatively to the high frequency in the fitness shoe example were people who are avid exercisers. For those who exercise 6 or 7 days a week, fitness shoe ads with high frequency information was more persuasive. For most "mortals" who don't exercise often, low frequency language is necessary in order to be relevant.

These findings need to be applied to advertising, promotions, news articles and all other marketing communications where frequency of product usage is mentioned or inferred.

Customer Segmentation

When you review your customer segments, this research indicates that your ability to characterize audiences by high and low frequency usage of your product is valuable. Those with the highest usage who are frequent users (daily or often compared to most other major groupings of customers) can be appealed to for their interest in affiliating with a peer group who are also frequent users. The balance of target customers who are occasional, rare users or prospects require a different approach. Other helpful advice and implications follows:

  • This research reveals that people's perceptions about the frequency of use in product value are very malleable. We can shift perceptions of relative use very easily. What really matters is the perceived relative frequency of use - what extent you use it relative to others.
  • People compare the usage you communicate with their own frequency of usage. They have to relate to the frequency that is suggested.
  • Whatever the frequency of use you are communicating, people interpret it as the average use, so if I don't use it as much as in the ad, for example, there is not value for me
  • When you give a high frequency reference point, most people infer they use the product less often than other consumers
  • For a target audience most likely to use a product occasionally, using a scale that implies low frequency of use is most effective, i.e. once per month, twice per year, etc.
  • For a target audience most likely to use your product often, if you give a very low frequency, then they infer that they use it a lot which gives them a positive sense that they are a frequent user because they are at the top of the scale
  • If you want to sell to the occasional user or a busy person, it is wise to provide a low reference point so they think they are relatively heavy users - persuade the consumer that the product is relevant to their lifestyle

Marketing Coach is a publication of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc.

ICCC helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through

brand building, public relations and strategic communications.To find out how ICCC can

help you and your company build your reputation contact ivy@ivycohen.com,

call 212-399-0026 or visit www.ivycohen.com.

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