A Mind for Brand Extensions

Recent research suggests that consumers’ state of mind affects their openness to new products affiliated with existing brands.

How willing are consumers to accept brand extensions that aren’t a close fit with the brand’s previous products? It depends on the consumers’ state of mind, according to three researchers. Specifically, according to a February 2008 working paper titled Beyond Survival of the Fittest: The Influence of Consumers’ Mindset on Brand Extension Evaluations, consumers who have an “abstract” state of mind at the time they consider a product might react differently when presented with brand extensions than those with a “concrete” mind-set. What’s more, the research indicates, consumers’ mind-sets can change. Some prior research has concluded that consumers react less favorably to extensions that are perceived as a poor fit with the existing brand, even when the brand itself is strong. However, the authors of the working paper suggest, consumers whose states of mind are made more concrete might consider brand fit differently from those responding to hypothetical product extensions from an abstract perspective. Tom Meyvis, associate professor of marketing at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and one of the authors of the working paper, explains the difference between abstract and concrete mind-sets in a consumer who is thinking about brand extensions: “People make completely different decisions depending on whether they are in an abstract or concrete mind-set. If you are in an abstract mind-set, you focus on theories or lay beliefs. … What [you] are really answering is not, ‘Will I buy this?’ but rather, ‘Is it a good idea for this brand to do this?’ However,” Meyvis adds, “The reality is, when you are shopping in a store, you are going to be in a more concrete mind-set. You are not wondering, ‘Is it a good idea for [ice-cream maker] Häagen-Dazs to introduce cottage cheese?’ … Rather, you are figuring out which one to buy. You are relying on concrete benefits, rather than on abstract principles.” Meyvis and his coauthors, Kelly Goldsmith, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Management, and Ravi Dhar, the George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing at the Yale School of Management, conducted eight studies to reveal how mind-sets affect potential consumers’ evaluations. The researchers placed survey participants in the United States in different mind-sets via several mechanisms, such as by using visual cues and by facilitating comparisons between name-brand and store-brand products.

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