Enhance Product Perception with Co-Creation

Back in the 1950s, General Mills’ Betty Crocker cake mix formula required that bakers only add water to complete the mix. But then the company changed the formula to require that home bakers also add eggs to the mix so that bakers felt like they had more ownership in the creation of the cake.

New research published in the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing backs this decision, finding that when consumers have to do more to make a product ready for consumption, they give the end-product better reviews and think more highly of the product they use as input.

The findings, published in the March issue of the Journal, suggest that marketers can enhance customers’ perceptions and evaluations of both the consumption experience and the product they use by encouraging customer co-production. The results have implications for marketers that use taste tests and product sampling in the creation and marketing of products, the authors say. In a scenario where a dehydrated soup mix is taste-tested in a lab or sampled in a store, for example, consumers are more likely to rate the product lower when they try the prepared product than if they prepare the mix themselves and then taste it.

The findings are based on the results of three experiments that asked participants to prepare a meal using a dinner kit and then evaluated the self-production effect. Some participants only had to heat and stir the contents of the kit to prepare the meal. Other participants had to get more involved, frying meat and adding spices. However, in the end, all groups tasted the same standardized food quality: The casseroles with self-produced food were secretly swapped with food prepared by a chef while participants filled in a questionnaire.

“Participants who engaged in self-production did not just upgrade outcome evaluations to make a better impression; they actually believed the self-produced food had more optimal sensory qualities,” said authors Sigurd Villads Troye and Magne Supphellen, of the Norwegian School of Economics. “Our findings imply that free samples of products that require or allow self-production may not only improve brand image but also link consumers’ self-concept to the brand.”

More of the study’s findings can be found in the article in the Journal of Marketing’s March issue.

The American Marketing Association is the professional association for individuals and organizations who are leading the practice, teaching, and development of marketing worldwide.

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