7 Reasons Consumers Resist Innovation

resistWe humans are a funny bunch around new ideas.

Yes, we’re excited to hear about them. But far less keen to act on them.

Certainly, when it comes to green innovation, there are plenty of obvious reasons for non-adoption, as the Exposing & Closing The Green Gap study highlights.

But even if you eliminate barriers like high price, it’s difficult to start the surge. Why?

In a conversation with Jim Nelson, a marketer at BC Hydro, I learned more about the myriad of subtle, not-so-rational reasons that stop us before we start.

Hydro’s expertise on the subject stems from its own particularly tough sell. As Nelson says, “We’re trying to convince consumers to save energy in a market with few incentives – BC’s power comes from hydro dams, so it’s clean. And our energy has one of the lowest price tags for power in North America. So people see no big benefit in saving energy from a wallet, or smog perspective.”

Certainly, incentives and programs have moved the needle. But the Hydro team also understands there are more subtle barriers to action they need to cross, seven of which Nelson mapped out for me. If you’re in the business of marketing green innovation (or any innovation, for that matter), these might be the keys you’ve been looking for. At the very least, they give us a glimmer into the irrational world of our own psychology.

Status Quo Bias Status Quo Bias is an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. What’s interesting here is that the bias isn’t against inferior alternatives, or a lack of information on alternatives. It’s against ANY change from the status quo.

Semmelweis Reflex The Semmelweis Reflex is a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or knowledge simply because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms.

Mere-exposure Effect The Mere-exposure Effect  is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. It can be something as simple as preference for a face you’re familiar with, or ‘warming’ up to an idea only after being exposed to it a number of times.

Loss Aversion Loss Aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains – I would hate to lose $100 much more than I’d feel great about winning $100.

Knowledge Bias Knowledge Bias refers to the tendency of people to choose the option they know best, rather than the best option. This includes well-known principles like the curse of knowledge, when having in-depth knowledge of a subject prevents us from thinking about it from a less-informed perspective.

Anchoring Anchoring is the tendency to rely too heavily on a past reference or one piece of information when making judgments. Think of how we judge a “good” price for a product based on the first price we see – any subsequent price we see is judged high or low based on our first price.

Hyperbolic Discounting Hyperbolic Discounting is our preference for rewards that arrive sooner rather than later. And the longer the delayed reward, the less we value it. Think long-term payback through energy efficiency vs immediate reward via lower equipment price.

So what to do with my green innovation?

Unfortunately, once a negative perception to a product or behavior is established, it’s difficult to detach. This explains our collective frustration at not moving more quickly to shift to more sustainable behavior, despite the knowledge that inaction is to our detriment.

That said, forewarned is forearmed. In Hydro’s case, understanding these drivers enables the marketing team to adjust programs and fail forward faster. How will they impact your next green innovation?

[Image credit: cuantofalta, Flickr]

Marc Stoiber

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