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The Psychology of Innovation (Summer 2016)

Curator: Stacy Wood

Studying innovation from a consumer perspective is one of the most exciting endeavors in marketing. The successful development, launch, and adoption of “the new” (be that new products, trends, systems, practices, or beliefs, etc.) is critical to firms, it is true, but also to the fabric of society. Processes of innovation intricately weave together the common warp of individual processes of change (e.g., cognitive elements of awareness, memory, and learning) with the ever-flowing weft of social phenomena (e.g., social networks, cultural meaning, contagion, word of mouth, and impression management) and technological progress (e.g., customization, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things). What could be more intriguing or more important?

Not surprisingly, then, consumer-centric innovation is well represented in the pages of JCR—in fact, five different major themes have emerged over the last four decades. The curation here is a way to understand five recent focal papers within the context of this history and the diverse structure of knowledge that has been knit together. In the descriptions of these five thematic threads, I discuss (and link) other relevant work for those interested in reading more deeply within each theme.

The first thread, a fine silk, is one of the oldest—the attempt to understand a generalized innovation process. In current research, most scholars continue to rely on the work of Everett Rogers, whose framework of innovation stages and adopter types is in line with empirical Bass models of adoption timing. In the 1980s, some researchers modified Rogers’s framework to marketing or consumer behavior (Arnould 1989Gatignon and Robertson 1985), but Rogers’s original conceptualization still dominates. This framework is best articulated in his classic book, Diffusion of Innovations, but Rogers’s 1976 article in JCR remains an insightful look into the history and future of innovation research. Not surprisingly, subsequent work explored the adoption process of many “next big things,” including electric vehicles (Wilton and Pessemier 1981), home computers (Dickerson and Gentry 1983), solar energy (Labay and Kinnear 1981), responsible consumption (Giesler and Veresiu 2014Kidwell, Farmer, and Hardesty 2013), and—my personal favorite—Alan Andreasen and Russ Belk (1980) teaming up to predict which consumers would start patronizing the performing arts. In the featured paper below, Mukherjee and Hoyer (2001) focus on the hurdle of complexity and remind us that consumers do not always positively value novel attributes.

The second thread—I envision it as a complex braid—represents research to understand the “mental work” of innovation adoption for consumers. When faced with a new product or situation, consumers ask: What is this? What can I expect? These questions shape the consumer’s understanding of an evolving product category in diverse ways (Pan and Lehmann 1993Moreau, Markman, and Lehmann 2001Zhao, Dahl, and Hoeffler 2014). They also logically lead to consumer-instigated information search and the often difficult work of learning about the new product and its use (e.g., Berning and Jacoby 1974Punj and Staelin 1983Johnson and Russo 1984Ozanne, Brucks, and Grewal 1992Grant and Tybout 2008Wood and Lynch 2002). There is much wonderful new work in this area exploring how consumers differ in the explanations they desire for how products work (Fernbach et al. 2013), the way in which consumers predict their own proficiency (Billeter, Kalra, and Loewenstein 2011), and, in the featured article, the way in which consumers best gain usage proficiency (Lakshmanan, Lindsey, and Krishnan 2010). After the “new wears off,” consumers again adapt to changing involvement patterns (Richins and Bloch 1986).

The third thread is a weighty one, a thick natural yarn—the consideration of how cultural meaning shapes innovation adoption and vice versa (Arnould 1989). From past work highlighting the social (e.g., Fisher and Price 1992Schouten and McAlexander 1995) and historical (e.g., Smith and Lux 1993Dickson 2000) nature of change behavior, it is easy to see how a sociological lens can offer insight into innovation adoption that seems, in many cases, to operate in states of tension. A work that I return to again and again is  Mick and Fournier (1998) and their brilliant exposition of the paradoxes that consumers must navigate in the adoption of technological products. More recently, in the featured paper, Kozinets (2008) further identifies ideological archetypes within technological innovation.

The fourth thread is a bit frayed with knotty bits. This is the thread that has attempted to capture “innovativeness” as an individual trait (e.g., Hirschman 1980). Researchers like Midgley and Dowling (19781993) thoroughly dissect the complexity inherent in this aim based on the contingent factors surrounding successful adoption behavior. While there is no reliable evidence of the ability to predict adoption solely from innovativeness measures (Steenkamp and Gielens 2003), some success can be seen in assessing the innovativeness of organizational groups like hospitals (Robertson and Wind 1980) and families (Cotte and Wood 2004). Ultimately, what has emerged from this work is the generalization that a propensity to try new things is fluid within the individual and thus open to the influence of situational forces like mindsets (Keinan and Kivetz 2011), life changes (Andreasen 1984Wood 2010), and physical states (Noseworthy, Di Muro, and Murray 2014). One very interesting paper in this vein, and the featured paper here, is Baca-Motes et al. (2013) and its examination of how very minor consumer commitment acts can significantly contribute to behavior change.

The fifth thread—the role of the Internet and other social and technological networks in promoting widespread consumer change—is one of the most exciting, and it’s easy to imagine it as a flashing fiber-optic cable rather than a plain fiber. Here we see that technological sophistication has created, via the Internet of Things, an environment in which long-standing concepts of grassroots consumer influence or opinion leadership (e.g., Kratzer and Lettl 2009) assume greater mainstream power in consumer-centric product development (e.g., Tian et al. 2014), even in the absence of firm intervention (e.g., Martin and Schouten 2014). Importantly, we see in the featured article that engaged consumers now take on more quasi-official roles in market emergence (Dolbec and Fischer 2015). This phenomenon is likely to grow and develop as consumers gain increasing control of creating new products, services, and consumption spaces.

Ultimately, we see that each thread critically contributes to our theoretical framework of how people respond to change and innovation in the marketplace.  For firms, these insights help drive the successful commercialization of invention and launch of new products, a worthy objective in itself.  But these findings go far beyond that and speak to the processes by which industries accept new practices (e.g., the adoption of electronic health records systems in healthcare), society accepts new ideas (e.g., the melding of science and fashion seen in wearable technologies), and even how both let go of the old.  For scholars, we see that these threads are far from being neatly cut and tied off.  Instead, they stretch out inviting new work and investigation by a future set of weavers.

The Effect of Novel Attributes on Product Evaluation 

Ashesh Mukherjee

Wayne D. Hoyer 

Many technological innovations introduce attributes that are novel or completely unknown to a large number of consumers. For example, recently introduced attributes such as GPS in cars or I-Link in computers are likely to have been novel to many consumers. Past research suggests that the addition of novel attributes is likely to improve product evaluation and sales, since consumers interpret these attributes as additional benefits provided by the manufacturer. However, this article demonstrates that the positive effect of novel attributes holds only in the case of low-complexity products. In the case of high-complexity products, the addition of novel attributes can actually reduce product evaluation because of negative learning-cost inferences about these attributes. Further, the positive and negative effects of novel attributes on product evaluation are accentuated by external search for information when the information discovered through search is ambiguous in nature. Finally, it is shown that the negative effect of novel attributes on the evaluation of high-complexity products can persist even after consumers are given explicit information about the benefits of novel attributes. A key marketing implication of these findings is that novel attributes may contribute to technophobia, or consumer resistance toward technological innovation.

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Practice Makes Perfect? When Does Massed Learning Improve Product Usage Proficiency?

Arun Lakshmanan

Charles D. Lindsey

 H. Shanker Krishnan

Previous research has shown that spacing of information (over time) leads to better learning of product information. We develop a theoretical framework to describe how massed or spaced learning schedules interact with different learning styles to influence product usage proficiency. The core finding is that with experiential learning, proficiency in a product usage task is better under massed conditions, whereas with verbal learning, spacing works better. This effect is demonstrated for usage proficiency assessed via speed as well as quality of use. Further, massed learning also results in better usage proficiency on transfer tasks, for both experiential and verbal learning. We also find that massed learning in experiential learning conditions leads not only to better usage proficiency but also to positive perceptions of the product. Overall, the pattern of results is consistent with a conceptual mapping account, with massed experiences leading to a superior mental model of usage and thus to better usage proficiency.

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Technology/Ideology: How Ideological Fields Influence Consumers' Technology Narratives

Robert V. Kozinets 

Through a systematic study of consumer narratives, this article models how technology ideologies influence consumer-level thought, speech, and action. Applying critical discourse analysis and articulation theory approaches, a semiotic square model represents the relations between Techtopian, Green Luddite, Work Machine, and Techspressive ideological elements in an ideological field. The narratives of individual consumers move between ideological elements in ways suggested by the model's semantic relations. The results reveal novel aspects of consumers' dynamic relations to technology ideology and invite further investigations of technology and consumption ideology.

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Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence from the Field

Katie Baca-Motes

Amber Brown

Ayelet Gneezy

Elizabeth A. Keenan

Leif D. Nelson

Influencing behavior change is an ongoing challenge in psychology, economics, and consumer behavior research. Building on previous work on commitment, self-signaling, and the principle of consistency, a large, intensive field experiment (N = 2,416) examined the effect of hotel guests' commitment to practice environmentally friendly behavior during their stay. Notably, commitment was symbolic-guests were unaware of the experiment and of the fact that their behavior would be monitored, which allowed them to exist in anonymity and behave as they wish. When guests made a brief but specific commitment at check-in, and received a lapel pin to symbolize their commitment, they were over 25% more likely to hang at least one towel for reuse, and this increased the total number of towels hung by over 40%. This research highlights how a small, carefully planned intervention can have a significant impact on behavior.

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Refashioning a Field? Connected Consumers and Institutional Dynamics in Markets

Pierre-Yann Dolbec

Eileen Fischer

We investigate the participation of engaged consumers in the fashion market through the lens of institutional theory. We develop theoretical insights on the unintended market-level changes that ensue when consumers who are avidly interested in a field connect to share ideas with one another. We find that consumers take on some of the institutional work previously done primarily by paid actors and introduce new forms of institutional work supportive of the field. We show that engaged consumers can precipitate the formation of new categories of actors in the field and the contestation of boundaries between established and emergent actor categories. Further, we propose that new consumer-focused institutional logics gain momentum, even while consumers support and promote preexisting logics through their practices. We compare cases where discontented market actors have brought about market changes with our investigation of one where contented consumers unintentionally precipitated market-level dynamics, and we show that the accumulation of consumers' micro-level practices can have pervasive and profound impacts.

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