A product concept is a set of expectations that customers form about the usefulness, performance and qualities of a service or good. These are often based on personal experience or on information gathered from other sources (friends, family members, shop assistants, etc).
Usually, they are formed gradually over a period of time by customers’ own experiences with the product. In this way, a customer may change their initial perception as new information becomes available and/or their own experiences with the product change. As an example: when we decide to buy one particular washing powder because it’s more economical than another and does just as good a job but then find during actual use that our clothes don’t seem clean enough, we may reconsider our choice in future and opt for a different brand.
In other words, customers’ initial impressions or expectations about a product are usually modified through their personal experiences with that product.
Internal factors can affect how a customer forms their expectations: for example, the company’s advertising may play an important role in forming customer perceptions of products and services. Also, someone who has previously used a particular service or bought a particular good will generally have higher expectations about it than someone who isn’t familiar with it.
In addition to these external influences on expectation formation, there are also internal factors such as personality characteristics (such as confidence levels) that help determine whether people are more or less influenced by information received from others before forming their own opinions and expectations.
The formation of customers’ expectations about a particular good or service usually takes place in the following way:
- When someone first becomes aware that some good or service exists (external stimuli), they form a perception of that product which may be positive, neutral or negative. Prototypical examples would include reading about a new washing powder in a magazine article, seeing an advertisement on television for it and approaching the sales assistant to ask for more details about it.
- This initial information forms their first impression – their Conceptualisation phase. As we saw before, this first impression could be positive, negative or neutral. It’s important to emphasise here that people are not likely to reach any conclusions at this point since they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. Therefore, this first impression is likely to be a general perception based on previous experience or just an initial reaction to some stimulus.
- Next, customers form their expectations of the product and its performance by combining their previous experience with similar products (i.e., they are using rules of thumb) with any new information received about the product (i.e., the current stimulus).
As we saw above, these expectations may be positive or negative depending on whether or not they match up with people’s needs and wants in relation to that product. Also, these perceptions are highly individualistic; what one person considers important, another might not take into consideration at all since it doesn’t match up with his/her own perception of the product.
For example, if you were looking for a particular washing powder to use in your new washing machine that had just arrived, you might be interested only in the performance category – how many stains does it remove from your clothes? But if another person was more concerned about price than stain removal qualities, they may base their decision on these alone.
It’s important to understand how your customer thinks in order to be able to sell them a product. If you’re not sure, start by asking yourself these three questions:
- What are their needs and wants?
- How do they think about the world around them?
- What is most important for them when it comes to this particular purchase decision?
Understanding how customers form expectations about products will help guide you on what type of information can influence or change those perceptions. Once you have an idea of how they think, then apply some neuroscience sales tips like anchoring (i.e., leveraging the power of numbers), priming (i.e., using environmental cues that trigger certain emotional responses), social proof (i.e., using the opinions of others to influence someone’s opinion) and many more.