Innovative Products and adaptation

An important first step in adapting a product to a foreign market is to determine the degree of newness as perceived by the intended market. How people react to newness and how new a product is to a market must be understood. In evaluating the newness of a product, the international marketer must be aware that many products successful in the United States having reached the maturity or even decline stage in their life cycles, may be perceived as new in another country or culture and thus must be treated as innovations. From a sociological viewpoint any idea perceived as new by a group of people is a innovation.

Whether or not a group accepts an innovation and the time it takes to do so depends on the product’s characteristics. Products new to a social system are innovations and knowledge bout the diffusion (i.e. the process by which innovation (spreads) of innovation is helpful in developing a successful product strategy. Sony’s marketing strategies for the US introduction of its PlayStation 2 were well informed by its wild successes achieved six months earlier during the product’s introduction in Japan. Conversely mid 1990s dips in Japanese sales of Apple computers were preceded by dips in Apple’s home US market. Marketing strategies can guide and control to a considerable degree the rate and extent of new product diffusion because successful new product diffusion is dependent on the ability to communicate relevant product information and new product attributes.

A critical factor in the newness of a product is its effect on established patterns of consumption and behavior. In the preceding cake mix example the fancy iced cake mix was a product that required both acceptance of the difficult to believe that is that dried eggs and milk are as good in cake as the fresh products, and the acquisition of new ideas that is that easy to bake fancy cakes are not a slight to one’s domestic integrity. In this case, the product directly affected two important aspects of consumer behavior and the product innovation met with sufficient resistance to convince the company to leave the market. Had the company studied the target market before introducing the product, perhaps it could have avoided the failure.

Another US cake mix company entered the British market but carefully eliminated most of the newness of the product. Instead of introducing the most popular American cake mixes the company asked 500 British housewives to bake their favorite cake. Since the majority baked a simple very popular dry sponge cake, the company brought to the market a similar easy mix. He sponge cake mix represented familiar tastes and habits that could be translated into a convenience item and did not infringe on the emotional aspects of preparing a fancy product for special occasions. Consequently after a short period of time, the second company’s product gained 30 to 35 per cent of the British cake mix market. Once the idea of a mix for sponge cake was acceptable the introduction of other flavors became easier.

The goal of a foreign marketer is to gain product acceptance by the largest number of consumers in the market in the shortest span of time. However, as discussed and as many of the examples cited have illustrated new products are not always readily accepted by a culture; indeed they often meet resistance. Although they may ultimately be accepted the time needed for a culture to learn new ways, to learn to accept a new product is of critical importance to the marketer because planning reflects a time frame or investment and profitability. If a marketer invests with the expectation that a venture will break even in three years and seven are needed to gain profitable volume, the effort may have to be prematurely abandoned. The question comes to mind of whether the probable arte of acceptance can be predicted before committing resources and more critically if the probable rate of acceptance is too slow, whether it can be accelerated. In both cases, the answer is a qualified yes. Answers to these questions come from examining the work done in diffusion research – research on the process by which innovations spread to the members of a social system.