A selection from the new book: Different Rules – the B2B Marketer’s Guidebook to Product Differentiation

Can seemingly unimportant features be persuasive?

By Chris Wirthwein

Three business professors sought to discover the marketing power of having a “reason” or because in your marketing.

In one experiment, they asked participants to read product descriptions (with no price information) for eight hypothetical brands of down jacket, one of which was differentiated by an irrelevant attribute. Seven brands were said to contain “regular down filling.” The eighth contained “Alpine class down fill.” No explanation was provided about the meaning of any attribute. Subjects rated the brands from least (1) to most preferred (10). Average rating for “regular down filling” products was 3.1. The “Alpine class down fill” product rated 9.1, a statistically significant difference.

Separate tests provided participants with a paragraph explaining product attributes and functions. “Alpine class” was described as goose down, and “regular fill” as goose down or a mix of goose and duck down. Subjects were told the type of bird “does not make a difference” in down performance. Product rating for a “regular fill” product averaged 4.3. “Alpine fill” averaged 8.4, a statistically significant difference. The authors concluded, “Even if subjects acknowledged that the differentiating attribute is irrelevant, they rate the differentiated brand more positively than the same brand without it.”

Other similar experiments were conducted with pasta, audio equipment and the same down jackets, this time with pricing information. Results showed:

  • When irrelevance of the differentiating attribute was not revealed: adding the attribute increased valuation of a brand priced higher than average and even more at the highest price. Adding a unique attribute did not boost perceived value of a brand priced lower than average.
  • When irrelevance of the differentiating attribute was revealed: adding the attribute increased valuation of a brand at a higher priced but not for a lower or premium priced brand.

The takeaway for B2B marketers? Talk about features that make up your product: raw materials, your R&D, manufacturing process and more. Your unique combination of attributes will likely be different from your competitors. And distinctive attributes create preference.

Read Different Rules - all 154-pages - free online e-book or purchase a hardcopy.

Chris Wirthwein is Senior Director for 5MetaCom, a marketing agency that develops strategies and campaigns to differentiate B2B technical and scientific products. He has authored three marketing books, including his latest, Different Rules: The B2B Marketer’s Guidebook to Product Differentiation. You can reach Chris on LinkedIn or at cwirthwein@5metacom.com.

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