New things are easier to sell when they seem familiar

Marc Fulgar

Imagine you are selling a new drink (perhaps in a new category) and you’re competing against Coca-cola. You’ve invented a nootropic brain drink that helps you stay calm and alert while coding, and it has a pleasant natural fizz to it. It might even be an unusual color like purple. Taste tests from prospective customers have been successful and the effects bear out from your claim – coders love it!

Bringing a new product to a new market is complex.

Now you’re ready to go to market, and you think people will love your new offering. Because it’s easier to package, you decide to go with packaging more like a foil pouch.


Now, you’ve got a problem – you’re trying to convince people to try a new product (in an uncertain market) for a new type of use and you’re also asking them to try a new kind of packaging for their drink.

John Gourville’s excellent article Eager Sellers, Stony Buyers details this exact problem and summarizes the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychiatrists who studied the process of choosing new products and services and concluded that there is more to product adoption than simply finding something new. Kahneman and Tversky’s work proved that there is complex behavioral math happening whenever we make a decision to try a new thing, writes Gourville:

First, people evaluate the attractiveness of an alternative based not on its objective, or actual, value but on its subjective, or perceived, value. Second, consumers evaluate new products or investments relative to a reference point, usually the products they already own or consume. Third, people view any improvements relative to this reference point as gains and treat all shortcomings as losses.

Ultimately, Gourville writes, the person selling the new item overvalues its utility by 3x and the person giving up the alternative (the “buyer”) overvalues the utility of their present solution by 3x. This means a new solution needs to be 9x better than the existing one to break through the combination of loss aversion and the switching cost of trying something new.

Friction Kills Sales

When you’re asking people to try a new thing they will cling to the item they have today. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to avoid the friction drink-loving coders might experience when they contemplate trying your brand new FizzyCoder drink in favor of their tried-and-true Coca-cola:

  1. Use similar language to the competing product – go read the website for the competing product and get a sense for the language and tone, then borrow the best parts.
  2. Put your product in a familiar package – instead of placing in a foil pouch, why not pack FizzyCoder in a glass bottle or in a 6 pack of cans, so it “looks more like Soda”?
  3. Use similar image styles in your marketing – Soda is an idea of lifestyle, so why not create a photoshoot where people appear to be having a great time as they drink your drink?
  4. Offer people incentives to try the product – this is a tough one because if you give away the product, people may perceive it as having lower value. You might offer other free items along with full-priced product (a cooler, drink coasters, or similar)

There is no marketing silver bullet


It would be nice if there was one thing you could do that would guarantee that your new brain drink would sell.

To overcome the objection of the person who doesn’t know what the product does and who has no reason to try it until you inform them, you need to have:

  • Compelling Benefit Statements (Keeps You Calm and Alert, Tastes Great, Fizzy Enough to Be Pleasant)
  • A reason to try the product (this could be social proof from a friend, or simply a really compelling offer)
  • Few reasons not to try the product.

Building similarity in the way you package, sell, and market your product will help you improve the confidence of your “stony buyer” so that they can make the transition to becoming your customer. And then there’s the matter of the repeat purchase.


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