When AACo hired me as an advisor, they had a big problem to solve: no one in the United States was interested in their product, Australian Wagyu beef, even though they were the world’s largest producer of this delicacy. and had won very prestigious world competitions. with that.
This misunderstanding has caused steak lovers in the United States to stick with the much better known USDA Prime and Japanese Wagyu, to the detriment of AACo sales. The company-specific challenge reflects a critical obstacle that any innovator faces when introducing their product or idea: inertia, in which people usually prioritize what they know over experience. of something new. This is one of the four main frictions that stand in the way of a new idea, as discussed in my book The Human Element.
To complicate matters further, innovators instinctively want to emphasize the novelty of their offering, which often has the opposite effect of embedding potential consumers deeper into the status quo, even if the innovation represents something really better.
One of the most powerful ways to reduce the pervasive friction of inertia and the resistance that comes with it is to make the new feel, well, not so new. You can do this by harnessing the power of familiarity. This approach alleviates consumer discomfort with something new and paves the way for trying out – and potentially enjoying – your product or idea.
1) Use a familiar form.
AACo’s underlying challenge with its Australian Wagyu was that consumers simply didn’t know how to compare one premium steak to another. And unless you’re a beef lover (they exist!), why would you? Working with company management, my colleagues and I have helped AACo take a proven business approach to a different area: wine. The wine industry amplifies the preciousness of its products by using ratings, provenance, tasting notes and other familiar characteristics to entice consumers to try new products amidst a sea of confusing options. So we lovingly borrowed this familiar form for Wagyu. We created menus that included “tasting notes”, provenance, and marble notes to help diners better understand the cuts on offer. Reorienting market understanding in this familiar way has worked wonders, and AACo’s sales lowed in the right direction quickly (sorry)!
2) Use a familiar face.
It’s about reducing inertia through the power of approval. It is not so much a question of associating a celebrity – athlete, actor, other – with a product to amplify its “cool” factor, but to reduce its ignorance by relying on a familiar messenger. One example that regularly appears on daytime television is actor Tom Selleck who extols the value of reverse mortgages. Many target consumers – usually older viewers – are understandably wary of this financial product (“Am I going to lose my house?!”) but feel reassured by the familiar face of Magnum PI. And he doesn’t have to be a celebrity endorser. As a startup investor, I’m much more willing to meet with a founder that an investor or entrepreneur I know introduces me to than someone who cold calls me. The familiarity of my colleagues transfers to the founder, reducing my discomfort.
3) Use a familiar template.
In the face of inertia, an analogy can be a powerful tool. That’s why countless startup presentations have been built around some version of “It’s Uber to (fill in the blank)” in recent years. It makes a new idea instantly familiar. In women’s health, Sabrina Martucci Johnson, CEO of Daré Bioscience, challenged longstanding gender bias among male investors by comparing new female contraceptive products to condoms and female arousal drugs to Viagra. The strategy is working; for example, Daré is co-launching a medicated gel for bacterial vaginosis with spin-off Merck Organon.
4) Use repeated and gradual exposure.
Absence can make the heart grow fonder, but so can greater exposure. This is because repeated encounters with something lead to a feeling of familiarity, reducing inertia. Take the example of a business leader ready to deploy a new strategy for his company, changes that will mean significant changes in the way employees do their jobs. The management team has been working on the change for some time and senior managers are excited about it. But a “big reveal” type event would likely backfire, illuminating the unfamiliar antennae of employees and causing immediate resistance – due to inertia. Instead, I would advise a more phased approach that communicates motivation, core ideas, and strategy highlights over time, long before the sizzle of an All-Hands meeting. That’s exactly what we did back when I worked for consulting firms: we shared our (often big) ideas with clients in smaller-scale forms through progress meetings and conversations. less formal, before the full unveiling at the final meeting. This greatly reduced the risk of resistance to our ideas.
The inertia is real and powerful. This is one of the main reasons why any new idea or product will fail. Use the insights here to step back, understand this great source of resistance, and harness the power of familiarity to successfully take your innovation to the world.