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New is a dirty word- to some people

One of the core tenets of advertising is to use the word “new” as often as you can.  There are a few words that supposedly are the best things you can say – and “new” is on that list.  The FTC says you can only use it for the first six months.  When I worked on launching new products, we milked that for the full six months.

But when I did research on our ads for those shiny new products, there were some people who wanted nothing to do with a new product. These represent Conservatives which comprise about 35% of Americans.  There was nothing you could say to convince them to try something different.  They wanted the old, the familiar. That is what they craved.

That is the essence of segmentation.  When we come up with advertising and marketing rules (like “New is attractive to everyone”), we often forget about segmentation, and this is a prime example. The best illustration of this is the debacle of New Coke in 1986.  The intense negative reaction to New Coke shook Coca-Cola to its core and they rapidly reintroduced Original Coke. Then Coke CEO Roberto Goizueta said that Coke has learned the lesson of the power of a brand.

But what if that isn’t the right lesson?  What if the lesson should be that some people don’t want change?  What if the lesson should be a lesson in understanding market segmentation?

After all, that’s what the product adoption life cycle graph that we all know and love is about.  All the way on the right are those pesky late adopters who just won’t adopt new products.  What do we often do about them?  We launch new products to the early adopters and ignore the late ones.   We figure late adopters will come along eventually.   But they don’t necessarily. 

This phenomenon represents an opportunity for venerable old brands.  When Coke reintroduced Original Coke, it consolidated its market share lead among people who prefer the familiar and, three decades later, Coke continues to outsell Pepsi. By chasing the people who crave “new,” Pepsi has doomed itself to continually chasing market share.   

A couple of products have bucked the “new is better” trend.  For example, Folgers named one of its coffee products Traditional Roast. Bisquik has found the power of familiarity by highlighting the Original Version of Bisquik. (Good job in going countertrend, JM Smucker and General Mills!) 

Major marketers usually react to declining sales by divesting the brands to hedge funds that are making a specialty of trying to revitalize these old laggards.   Do they know how to activate the power of late adopters, people who abhor the new? 

If you work on one of these legacy brands, how do you handle the 35% of users who prefer the familiar?  And it’s not just that they are a significant block of users.  They are likely to be loyal users, who represent even more volume. Are they 50% or more of your volume?

I can help you figure out how to take advantage of the power of late adopters.  You need to know that they are more sensitive to social proof than the early adopters and that who that proof comes from is crucial.*  Email me your stories about how you handle late adopters, or whether you ignore them. 

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Karen Tibbals @KarenTibbals

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