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Anxiety Over New Products Makes Us More Likely To Buy Them

Customer anxiety around new products is something to be harnessed, not avoided.  
Customer anxiety around new products is something to be harnessed, not avoided.  
  • When met with strong feelings of hope, anxiety leads consumers to engage in ‘action planning’, say academics
  • A new perspective on anxiety means a new approach is needed from marketers
  • Warning labels and disclaimers could be key to reaching sales goals in the coming year

In a world of beautiful people, Hollywood smiles and social media, the next big teeth-whitening treatment is always just around the corner. According to Statista, in 2016 the global teeth whitening market was valued at $3.15 billion USD, and was expected to reach around $3.78 billion USD by 2021. From toothpastes to UV-light-activated serums, there’s something for everyone. But, not everybody is always immediately sold on the idea of a miracle treatment for that perfect smile. For many, these products come with big ‘what ifs’ and more anxiety than marketers might want.

Yet, according to a recent study from a leading business school, consumer worries shouldn’t be cause for concern for marketers, as research reveals a strong marketing strategy for new products is to induce a feeling of anxiety within the customer.

Consumers who feel anxious about a new product are actually more likely to buy it, research from Imperial College Business School has found. According to the study, anxiety over never-before-purchased items actually increases the likelihood of us buying those products when that feeling of unease is met with one of hope.

Professor Andreas Eisingerich and Dr Yu-Ting Lin, both of Imperial, found that despite long-held assumptions around the role of anxiety as a dissuasive force in the decision-making process, apprehension around new products – often centring on the unwanted potential outcomes of using these items – when met with an equal degree of hopefulness, leads the consumer to engage in ‘action planning’.

According to the researchers, action planning is the process in which we mentally map-out how hoped-for outcomes can be achieved and angst-inducing ones can be avoided.

Using the example of a new skin product, the researchers say that action planning for this item could include reading-up on the ingredients and potential side-effects, asking a friend if they have used the product before, and carefully reading the usage instructions. The academics suggest that, having taken these steps, consumers consequently feel more in control over the outcomes the new product might provide, making them more likely to buy that item.

Eisingerich, a professor of marketing at Imperial, says; “Action planning can actually enhance new product adoption by increasing consumers’ perceptions of control, overcoming negative perceptions of products that could deter the individual from purchasing said item.”

He and Dr Lin put their theory to the test by overseeing three studies, in which a new medication designed to protect individuals from contracting HIV, an extra-strength skincare product and a new energy drink, which promised mental clarity and healthy energy, were used to evaluate the effects of anxiety and hope on shopper decision-making. The researchers used products which spanned numerous consumer demographics, and put in place different provisions to invoke strong feelings of hope or unease at different stages of the studies, finding evidence within each study that anxiety about a new product increases the likelihood of purchasing that item.

With the findings of their research in mind, the Imperial College Business School professors suggest that a new approach is needed when looking to market new products. According to the academics, when in the research and development stage, marketers must ensure that product messaging cultivates the right levels of worry, as well as hope, within the consumer. If they find that potential customers feel uneasy about the prospect of using their product, they must resist the urge to remove all messaging that downplays this anxiety and instead look to incorporate messaging that boosts consumer hopefulness.

And, to the surprise of many, according to Eisingerich and Lin, if your market research reveals that prospective consumers feel a high level of hope and only limited anxiety about a new product you’re releasing, including messaging – such as disclaimers or warning labels – in order to induce feelings of unease is the best way forward.

Traditionally marketers have been unwilling to use any kind of messaging on their packaging that could lead to potential consumers being put off from buying their products. In June 2020, it was reported by US News & World Report that research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health had found that warning labels on sugar-rich drinks could lead to a drop in purchases. Yet, according to Eisingerich and Lin, while counterintuitive, this kind of messaging actually leads to more informed decision-making by kick-starting worry-induced action planning.

So, should all new products come with disclaimers, warning labels and unnerving language? While you’re unlikely to see a skull and crossbones front-and-centre on the next tube of Colgate you pick up off the shelf, the lessons from this research are clear: customer anxiety around new products is something to be harnessed, not avoided.  

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