Managing Consumer Uncertainty in the Adoption of New Products: Temporal Distance and Mental Simulation

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Raquel Castaño, Mita Sujan, Manish Kacker, and Harish Sujan

Executive Summary
Consumers are frequently confronted with innovations that require them to adopt new behaviors and/or discontinue previous behaviors. Although they may be excited by the performance potential of new products, consumers become increasingly concerned with uncertainties and stay with the traditional options when the time to make a purchase decision arrives. In this article, we develop a temporal model of communication strategies for managing consumer perceptions of uncertainty during the introduction and launch of new products.

In Study 1, the authors delineate how temporal distance to adoption influences consumers’ concerns regarding the different types of uncertainties that surround new products. Using temporal distance theories, the authors hypothesize and find evidence that over time, consumers’ concerns shift from a consideration of benefit-related uncertainties (performance and symbolic uncertainties) to cost-related uncertainties (switching costs and affective uncertainties).

In Studies 2 and 2a, the authors draw on theories of mental simulation to reduce the different types of uncertainties associated with adopting new products. We distinguish between outcome and process simulation and, on the basis of this distinction, suggest communication strategies for new products. They show that communication strategies that promote adoption in the distant future guide consumers to engage in outcome simulation to reduce performance uncertainty, bolster positive feelings, and enhance behavioral intentions. In contrast, communication strategies that promote adoption in the near future encourage process simulation to reduce switching-cost and affective-cost uncertainties, alleviate anxiety, and increase behavioral intentions. Matching communication strategies to temporal distance also increases actual adoption rates and, importantly, postconsumption satisfaction.

In Study 3, the authors consider how the newness of innovations impacts communication needs. On the basis of research on innovations, they argue that at a high level of product newness, understanding and managing uncertainty are critical to adoption. They find empirical support for the contention that the efficacy of uncertainty reduction strategies depends on product newness. Thus, the salutary impact of communication strategies from Study 2 on behavioral intentions is greatest when product newness and the initial levels of uncertainty are high.

The findings have additional managerial and public policy implications. The results can help explain why early product concept test results may provide unreliable data on product acceptance. Product preferences that are obtained when consumers perceive the product as being far from market may overestimate the benefit-related features of the product and underestimate the cost-related features, including ease of learning and using the product. Much of the extant research on new product preannouncements has focused on the competitive implications of such announcements. The current research reinforces the need to consider the consumer learning implications of these preannouncements; truthful preannouncements that promote outcome simulation can facilitate the consumer adoption process. Policy makers need popular acceptance of new public policy initiatives that substantially depart from the status quo (e.g., private, individual social security accounts; a national health care system). Similarly, “new-to-the-world” products for alleviating common problems in developing economies need popular support to be successfully deployed. On the basis of these findings, initial communications about such public policy changes and products should revolve around encouraging outcome simulation. Closer to the implementation of these policies, communications should shift toward fostering process simulation. Synchronizing communication strategy with temporal distance to adoption in this way leads not only to increased adoption but also greater postconsumption satisfaction. This suggests that carefully tailored communication strategies can also have a beneficial impact on consumer welfare and well-being.

Raquel Castaño was born and raised in Monterrey, México. She received her PhD from Tulane University in July 2004. She also obtained a master’s degree in Management from Tulane University and a two master’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from the Graduate School of Business and Leadership at Tecnológico de Monterrey. Raquel has worked for Tecnológico de Monterrey since 1987 as a professor, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the area of Marketing. She also served as associate director for the Undergraduate Marketing Program and is currently director of the Master in Marketing Program at EGADE, the Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Mita Sujan is the Malcolm Woldenberg Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behavior in the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University. Professor Sujan’s research focuses on the roles of emotion and cognition in decision making. Examples of this research include the role of autobiographical memories (and anticipations) on product evaluation strategies, the impact of specific emotions (e.g., fear, guilt, regret, challenge, hope) on persuasion, intertemporal shifts in decision making for really new products, and coping with stress. She has authored articles in Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. She has served on the editorial boards of Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, and Marketing Letters. She is active in professional societies and has served in various roles, including treasure and conference co-chair for the Association for Consumer Research.

Manish Kacker is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Tulane University. His research is primarily focused on addressing managerial problems that companies face, particularly in the realms of marketing channels, interorganizational relationships, franchising, entrepreneurship, and innovation. His research has previously been published in Journal of Marketing Research and International Journal of Research in Marketing. He has a PhD in Marketing from the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University), a PGDM (MBA) from the Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore), and a BA Honors (Economics) degree from St. Stephen’s College (University of Delhi).

Harish Sujan is Professor of Consumer Behavior and Marketing at Tulane University. His research interests are in consumer behavior and sales management. The issues he focuses on are related to the effect of motivation on the development of ability and the choice of behavior. Issues pertaining to optimism, attributions for successes and failures, and practical intelligence are some of the theoretical underpinnings that guide this research. He has authored articles in Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Marketing Letters, and Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research.

Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. XLV, No. 3, June 2008
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