Research Spotlight: Two great products…great together?

Stack of cell phone-PDAsFrom voice recorder-MP3 players to dual-fuel vehicles, hybrid products are everywhere – and emerging technologies mean there are likely to be more of them in the future. Marketers hope consumers will love the results when two popular products are blended into one package. But all too often, the extra features go unnoticed and unused.

Hybrid products face a unique set of marketing challenges, and advertising frequently fails to communicate those products’ advantages effectively, according to Priyali Rajagopal, assistant professor of marketing in SMU’s Cox School of Business.

For example, consumers used to view the cell phone with PDA attributes as primarily a cell phone, she says. “This is a huge problem for marketers, because it costs money to add features. Consumers categorize in one area or another and then draw inferences which flow from that single category, not multiple categories.”

Rajagopal and co-author Robert Burnkrant of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business conducted a study in which respondents were shown examples of hybrid products in ads – a pen-pencil, a cell phone-PDA, and so on. When the participants were given information about both product categories, they were able to properly acknowledge the two parts of a hybrid product.

The technique is calling “priming,” a term from psycholinguistics. In short, exposure to information about both functions of a hybrid product helped people see that the hybrid belonged in both categories.

“It was a really simple, intuitive finding,” Rajagopal says. “Being primed with many examples has an impact on information processing, and thus beliefs. This then affects how consumers see the product in the future.”

At the same time, the authors found that when individuals were not “primed” with information, they refused to acknowledge that the product belonged in two categories. The marketing implications are unmistakable, Rajagopal says.

“In the absence of clear communications, consumers are not going to take away [the extra] feature. The product will be viewed as uni-dimensional otherwise.”

“Consumer Evalutions of Hybrid Products” by Priyali Rajagopal and Robert Burnkrant is forthcoming in Journal of Consumer Research.

Read more from the Cox School of Business website

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