I am celebrating my return to blogging with some insight from the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge website. A recent article highlights new research on the importance of names for new products. It analyses whether naming products with numeric increments to show improvement over the previous version versus naming products with a completely new name has an impact on consumer choice.
Well, guess what? It does.
Consumers tend to feel that sequential naming (2400 vs. 2300, for example), tends to indicate an improvement in functionality and ease of use, whereas new product names (Ice Cream Sandwhich, anyone?) signify major departures from the previous product, which change the way in which the product operates, and the customer’s interaction with that product. Product name changes (from XP to Vista, for example) imply a learning curve, while numerical increments only signal that minor adjustments are necessary.
The research also contextualizes the findings. Signaling improvements or touting major departures are neither good or bad per se, but carry weight only in the context of the risk associated with adopting the new product (perceived risk, that is). Thus fiddling with a new phone to learn how to adjust the setting is not as risky as a new server that may or may not be compatible with the existing infrastructure.
Granted, the findings seem to hold mainly for technology products, so I’d be curious to know whether they hold for products whose fundamental use is not affected by the change in formula or content, such as facial creams or mascara.
My guess is that there would be some small level of concern over the ingredients or the results of the new versus the improved product, but the brand name would carry more weight than the product name.