When evaluating an idea for a new product to launch, managers need a clear-eyed and neutral assessment of the likelihood the product will succeed. Too often, however, they are unrealistically optimistic about new product ideas, and they develop products that should have been rejected early on. The authors discover a problem that contributes to this unrealistic optimism: Whether due to their intuition or training, managers often assess new product ideas by asking themselves questions such as “Would this product meet a customer need?” Of course, this makes perfect sense: one of the core tenets of marketing is that managers should try to satisfy the wants/needs of customers, and a product that would not satisfy any important customer need is likely to fail. However, the authors find that when managers deliberate such questions, many experience a cognitive bias when they spontaneously engage in “visual mental imagery” of customers interacting with the product.
To reduce unrealistic optimism, avoid visual mental imagery about customers when considering how well a product would satisfy their needs/wants. That is, you can still consider customers, their needs, and how the product might satisfy them, but you should perform all those considerations without visual mental simulation.
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What You Need to Know
- It might seem like a good idea to visualize how your customer will use a product. It’s not.
- Mental imagery can cause unrealistic optimism about products
- Try considering customers’ wants and needs without actually imagining them using your product. It can help you remain objective and cut ties with products that should be rejected.
One of the traditional tenets of marketing is that managers considering whether to develop and launch a new product should adopt a customer orientation and consider whether the product would satisfy the needs of customers. This research discovers that adopting a customer orientation causes managers to experience undesirable cognitive effects. The authors find that when considering customers’ needs during the screening phase of the new product development process, managers often voluntarily engage in mental imagery (i.e., cognitive simulation) that biases their evaluation of a new product idea toward unrealistic optimism—even for a flawed product that would not satisfy customer needs. Furthermore, the authors find that managers who exert greater vigilance to achieve more accurate evaluations of the new product idea are especially vulnerable to the biasing effect, leading to less accurate evaluations. The authors test an analytical technique (i.e., a theory-based approach to analyzing the new product) that successfully allows a manager to adopt a customer orientation without an attendant bias toward optimism.
Eric D. DeRosia and Ryan S. Elder (2019), “Harmful Effects of Mental Imagery and Customer Orientation During New Product Screening,” Journal of Marketing Research, 56 (August), 637–51.