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Visual cues, comparison shopping can sway shoppers to switch brands, research finds

NEW YORK — New research that will appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research explores consumer sentiment over the extension of a premium brand outside of its typical category.

In their paper, "The Importance of the Context in Brand Extension: How Pictures and Comparisons Shift Consumers' Focus from Fit to Quality," professors Tom Meyvis of the NYU Stern School of Business, Kelly Goldsmith of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Ravi Dhar of the Yale School of Management, found that consumers were more willing to switch their preference from a "low-status brand" (e.g., Kmart camping gear) to an extension of a premium brand that isn't a natural fit for the product category (e.g., Speedo camping gear) when marketers add a picture of the product in question or allow consumers to compare brands rather than judge each brand separately.

"New brand extensions are often tested in an abstract setting (e.g., what would you think of a Crest facial moisturizer?)," Meyvis said. "In this market research context, consumers place too much emphasis on the fit between the brand and the product. As a result, companies may underestimate the value and opportunity of high-status brands extending into a wide variety of product categories."

Additional findings included:

  • Visual cues (e.g., pictures of the product), shift consumers' focus to the quality of the parent brand and away from the fit of the brand when evaluating a brand's new product offering;

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  • Brand comparisons shift consumers' preference from lower status brands (e.g., ShopRite cottage cheese) toward higher status brands even if they aren't a good fit (e.g., Haagen-Dazs cottage cheese); and

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  •  Market research studies that mimic a typical shopping environment with visual information and competing brands will reveal greater potential for high-status brand extensions

"A high-quality brand that is introducing a product in a category that isn't a good fit would benefit from marketing efforts that encourage brand comparisons," Goldsmith said. "Conversely, a lower-quality brand that is introducing a new extension may benefit from shopping environments where the product is not being compared to other brands (e.g., by placing it in an end-of-aisle display)."
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