Understanding Innovation – Values Fit from the Consumer Perspective: A New Mixed-Model Approach

Abstract

Innovations that are perceived to be the means to realizing important personal values have a greater likelihood of success than those that clash with or impede value fulfillment. The concept of innovationvalues fit (or value compatibility) explains broad patterns of consumer adoption across diverse product categories. However, the simple “poor-neutral-good” scales typically used to measure innovation-values fit are incapable of providing the kinds of fine-grained insights considered necessary to support decisions for marketing a particular new product. This research contributes an analytic framework based on the Means-End approach to understand innovation-values fit from the consumer perspective with the goal of informing new product commercialization strategy. The article revisits old practices and initiates new work that probes more deeply, directly, and specifically into how consumers evaluate new products and perceive links between distinctive product features and personal values. Using data from160 personal “laddering” interviews in a national field study, we examine consumer reaction to a next-generation cell phone and discover seven innovation-values themes that drive consumer preference and price expectations in the product category. Implications are discussed for marketers who commercialize innovations and need to understand the incremental benefits that consumers associate with adopting a new product over its rivals.

It’s new, but will people want it? Many innovations have failed not because of technical deficiencies, but due to incompatibility or a lack of fit with personal goals and values . The idea of achieving congruence between an innovation and the values of the target users is among the most important and widely reported generalizations in the extensive innovationadoption literature . Accordingly, innovation managers are advised to research how targeted users perceive a given innovation and the extent to which it clashes or coincides with their personal values .

In the early years of innovation adoption research, researchers rarely measured the perceptions of the potential adopter, opting instead to infer the level of value compatibility . The persistent lack of direct measurement in the literature led to advocate a survey measure of innovation-values fit, defined as “the extent to which targeted users perceive that use of the innovation will foster (or, conversely, inhibit) the fulfillment of their values.” While the popular “lowmedium-high” innovation-values fit scale proved useful in predicting success in adoption processes, alone this measure does not provide guidance on how to improve and to make smart choices in the commercialization process. We posit that the measure lacks fidelity with how consumers actually evaluate innovations and is too granular to discern the specific values that foster an innovation’s desirability to the individual

The primary aim of this paper is to propose a new analytic framework for discovering and evaluating user perceptions of innovation-values fit. Our approach is based on two key assumptions. First, the concept of innovation-values fit is more variegated and complex than normally assumed. Impression formation may involve multiple perceptual dimensions that are used as choice criteria in consumer adoption decisions. Second, the best way to discover innovation-values fit is directly from users, in their own words. We favor generative research that encourages consumers to express the motivationally significant values used in their evaluations over using traditional values scales that may not correspond with consumers’ perceptions. Simply put, our method solicits qualitative data that provides a more nuanced and precise accounting of the specific personal values implicated when individuals evaluate innovations.

Building on established means-end models for studying consumer decision making we develop an analytical framework to map and measure the meansend chains of logic that describe consumer perceptions of an innovation’s relevance to personal values. Our approach combines established qualitative methods for developing insights into consumer perceptions with quantitative evaluations of products to gain deeper insights on both what is important and measure of the degree of importance.

Existing perceptual and preference mapping techniques help managers see how their own product compares to rivals through the eyes of their customers. With a plethora of sophisticated data analysis tools at their disposal, researchers can produce concise visual representations of the competitive landscape with great psychometric precision. Notwithstanding methodological developments in modeling brand/product attribute performance or importance, these maps do not tell us much about why consumers form certain perceptions or preferences.

In contrast, the laddering interview technique probes more deeply, directly, and specifically into how brand / product aligns with higher-level customer needs, goals, and values. It asks and seeks to answer the question “What matters, or what might matter, to potential customers?” by eliciting consumers’ reasons for choosing a product over its competitors. Laddering study results discover the dimensions that matter most to consumers and are therefore widely used by managers to identify positioning options, develop commercialization strategy, and design marketing communications.

Despite substantial research, the two approaches for studying consumer perceptions have rarely, if ever, been combined in one study. Given the complementary perspectives offered by perceptual mapping and laddering techniques, there exists a missed opportunity to merge these two approaches to create a more accurate and comprehensive view of how consumers evaluate innovations. We contend that consumers construe the reasons why an offering has value (form their own qualitative means-end chains of logic) and use these dimensions to evaluate the performance of an offering relative to the available alternatives (assign ratings that reflect relative performance on the dimensions). Our approach is unique as it gathers the qualitative dimensions and quantitative ratings in a single study as opposed to the arduous multi-study data collection process that is typically used. Consequently, we can perform multidimensional scaling analysis by comparing offerings (brand, model, etc.) using objective attributes and perceived dimensions of value.

Our objective is combine existing methods in an original way to generate novel insights into the role of consumer perceptions of innovation-values fit in the adoption process. Our analytical framework enriches our knowledge of consumer adoption perceptions and produces more exact, actionable, and timely insights than offered by either of the established methods alone. The benefits offered by our approach are greatly appreciated in volatile markets with increasingly short life cycles, and where the introduction of an innovative feature could be a game-changer.

The remainder of the article is organized as follows: First, we review the theoretical underpinnings and measurement issues surrounding consumers’ evaluations of innovations and discuss the suitability of the means-end approach and laddering technique to measure consumer perceptions of innovationvalues fit. Second, we outline our procedure for studying the linkages between consumer preferences, price expectations and product evaluations, and present the results of an application of our approach to a large-scale field study of consumer reaction to a next-generation product (a cellular phone handset). Finally, we discuss the implications for managers aiming to develop timely and effective strategies for marketing innovations and managing other products, brands and models in the company’s portfolio.

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