All of us have this one friend who owns a DSLR camera, but has no idea how to use it. So, why did this guy (it’s almost always a guy, isn’t it?) end up buying a fancy camera and insists on treating us to his mediocre photography on Facebook, Instagram and other portals? And how is his decisionmaking process different from the expert photographer?
A product has features or attributes, which partially or fully drive our decision to buy or use it. For a digital camera, these attributes may be price, brand, weight, lens aperture, picture sharpness, battery life etc. Changes in each of these attributes (technical term – utility) have their own differential impact on how much you like the said camera. For example, if everything else is kept constant, and the manufacturer increases the price, you may like the camera a little less than before, but if they add a longer lasting battery, you may be a little happier.
A product has features or attributes, which partially or fully drive our decision to buy or use it. Changes in each of these attributes have their own differential impact on how much you like the said product
Of course, manufacturer decisions are contingent on profitability decisions — it will cost more to include a better battery, and the manufacturer must decide whether providing the upgrade at the same price is worth the extra sales volume that may or may not result from this decision. Trade-offs involving changes in multiple attributes are harder to predict, and such decisions form the bulk of a product manager’s or designer’s responsibilities.
Trade-offs involving changes in multiple attributes are harder to predict, and such decisions form the bulk of a product manager’s or designer’s responsibilities
This brings us to two kinds of attributes — the alignable and the non-alignable. If you were comparing a DSLR camera to a smartphone, you may realise that the two are not perfect substitutes, but still compete with each other in your purchase decision. You may decide that a smartphone, with its wider range of functionalities, is better value for money, despite its lower resolution camera, or vice versa, given your own preferences. In such a comparison, you could compare common attributes, like lens aperture and picture sharpness, which are termed as alignable. However, the phone can connect to the internet and you can use it to play games as well — features that the DSLR does not have — and these are termed non-alignable. So, how do experts and newbies like your irritating Facebook friend differ in their comparison of such attributes?
A fairly large body of research in marketing in the 1990s and early 2000s suggests (as intuition may dictate) that alignable attributes play a more important role in consumer choice than non-alignable attributes, and that it may make sense to highlight the former in ads comparing your products with your competitor’s. However, the motivation to process these attributes also matters.
Research suggests that alignable attributes play a more important role in consumer choice than non-alignable attributes, and that it may make sense to highlight the former in ads comparing your products with your competitor’s
Research by Myungwoo Nam, Jing Wang and Angela Lee suggests that experts, by virtue of their higher motivation to compare attributes in their expertise category, as well as superior cognitive abilities to do so, may pay more heed to non-alignable attributes than novices do. They demonstrated their claims using a series of controlled experiments, in which expert subjects consistently reported more non-alignable attributes as being important than novices, while choosing MP3 players, cellphones and laptops. In their choice experiments, expert subjects systematically made choices that were superior on non-alignable attributes than their novice counterparts.
So, what is the moral of the story for sellers of DSLR cameras? Do they want to reach out to novices like your Facebook friend, or the expert photographer? Can they identify the experts, and target them differently from the novices? For example, Nikon could highlight features absent in competing Canon cameras when advertising in photography magazines, while focusing on common features like price, picture quality, and lens aperture when advertising in general interest magazines and websites, where your friend is likely to see them. Of course, your friend may really fancy himself to be an expert, and subscribe to experts’ magazines as well, but that is another story for another day.
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This column is intended to showcase interesting academic research in marketing. The technically oriented reader is encouraged to read the original research articles cited in the column.