Finding Familiar Among the Foreign: Strengthening the Connection Between Customers and New Products

From the desk of Carole Schmidt, Doyle Research Associates

Every product developer or brand manager’s worst nightmare is that the innovations they launch don’t move a muscle and, instead, “collect dust” whether on the real or virtual sales shelf.  Many of these products didn’t start out that way.

At the Institute of Food Technologists’ show this past summer, algae generated considerable attention as an important new ingredient, bountiful and cheap. Imagine the possibilities, they say! Envision the cool new foods! Try these algae cubes…here’s a delicious algae milk…wait until you taste these algae tubes, a cool new snack. As experienced researchers, we instantly recognized the cautious enthusiasm among fellow innovators at the show, also prospective shoppers/buyers. “Oh yeah, this is amazing,” they stated loudly for colleagues to hear, “I’d buy this for sure.”

Don’t get me wrong here. I am passionate about innovation. I salivate over being part of the fuzzy front end and new-to-the-world product development. But as a skilled observer of human behaviors, I find myself warning that while new for the sake of “innovation” may generate excitement, excitement alone does not generate sales.

So what’s a product developer to do? To succeed with new—the foreign—among shoppers/buyers, there also needs to be the familiar. What this means is that when you have an innovative proposition, there need to be elements of familiarity to help the shopper/customer know, for example, how to use the product, understand why to buy the product, or grasp when to use the product. Take that same algae and blend it into a smoothie, and now, hmmmm, that’s not so weird, is it?

A great example is the new savory Greek yogurts (cucumber, olive oil, mint and basil, anyone?).  I project we will see these products in mainstream consumers’ refrigerators. While the savory flavor profiles are certainly new to, and unexpected in, this category (the foreign), the billion-dollar Greek yogurt industry is already wildly popular with consumers as a healthier, protein-centric food (the familiar). This combination peaks consumers’ interest while simultaneously instilling intuitive confidence to try these new entries, half the challenge of a new product launch. Even the emerging recreational marijuana industry recognizes this behavior as proprietors in recreationally-legal marijuana states are introducing novices to pot via familiar gummi and jelly bean edibles to make that trial hurdle more palatable, literally and figuratively!

The foreign, but familiar principle even applies, in this hot election season, to a segment of voters feeling disenfranchised because of the perceived loss of a conventional value system amongst rapid changes in technology, modern families, the gender identity spectrum, a global economy, etc. These voters favor candidates that promise a return to the familiar “good old days,” the “way it was,” gaining comfort and confidence in familiar themes and values.

Familiar gives comfort to shoppers/buyers. It helps them connect emotionally with your product, whether it’s via form, flavor, or use/application.  This principle works in reverse, too. When you launch familiar, e.g., a new chip, you need foreign to stand out, attract attention, and move the purchase needle. How about those sriracha potato chips!

So when introducing new-to-the-world products, or even trying to distinguish your brand in a sea of competitors, consider the foreign, yet familiar principle to help your target customer relate to or connect with your product entries.